Tree Planting and Tree Pruning

Date Published: 
September, 1909
Original Author: 
John J. Stephens
Original Publication: 
AACS Proceedings of the 23rd Annual Convention

Of all the work pertaining to horticulture there is none so difficult to write about as the planting and pruning of trees and it is almost impossible for one to learn how to do the work by reading for the fact that no two trees are alike.

Whoever studies the varied beauties of trees will find that they possess almost a human interest, and their features will reveal varieties of expression, and charms of character, that dull observers cannot imagine.

No tree has the highest beauty of its type without the appearance, in its whole bearing, of robust vigor. There may be peculiar charms in the decay of an old trunk, or the eccentric habit of some stunted specimen which ministers to the love of the picturesque; but tree beauty and health are as inseparable in trees as in humanity. Luxuriant vigor is, then, the essential condition of all beautiful trees but thriftiness cannot make an elm look like an oak, but rather brings into higher relief the distinguishing marks of each, making the elm more graceful and the oak more majestic.

It is always profitable to give time to intelligent preparation of the soil to receive the trees and to be sure that the roots are kept in a moist condition until established in the new ground, Excavate the soil from a space wide and deep enough to provide for the root growth, throw back the soil so that your trees when planted in the middle of the prepared space will have a deep, mellow bed in which to extend their roots.

In planting, the tree should be set in the ground no deeper than it grew in the nursery, which depth may be determined by discoloration of the bark at the base. More trees die from this one cause than from any other. Any broken or injured roots should be pruned so that the ends be smooth.

It transplanting trees I would advise liberal doses of old manure or wood ashes. It is surprising how the roots revel in ground containing such ingredients. Another important factor for quick and luxurious growth is to form basins around the trees in order to catch the water. It is, besides that, a safeguard against the lawn mower. Never allow any grass to grow near your young trees; keep the basins always free of weeds and have the soil stirred up two or three times during the summer and in winter put some short manure on to keep out the cold, and also to serve as a mulch. Be sure to have the basins large enough, never less than one foot in diameter; two feet is much better.

You ask--When is the best time to plant trees and my answer is: plant whenever the weather conditions are favorable. There are so many conditions that may work out all right for the grower in a certain locality, but would be the wrong procedure in another locality. And again, one season may call for a slight modification of the work done the previous year. Thus you can easily see that it is impossible for anyone to lay down a fixed set of rules and follow them, in reference to each particular case. All well regulated cemeteries should have their own nursery so you could plant just whenever you have a favorable day. I have planted trees from our own nursery row as late as the third week in May, out in full leaf and without a single loss. This, of course, would be impossible if you had to buy your trees at some distance from home; hence the double advantage.

It is common to note how little attention most people pay to the trees after they are once planted. Is it any wonder one sees so few really beautiful specimens? This is apparently due to the fact that they do not require his constant care, and usually seem to thrive without his aid; yet what a vast difference between a well trained, properly cared for tree and the one that has to take care of itself. A tree demands very little care and attention if it be done annually, but that it must have to develop properly.

How to save our trees? That is the problem; to prevent them from dying; to keep them in good health, strong and beautiful; to keep them with us. Surely these are admirable endeavors and worthy of much thought and attention.

I cannot emphasize enough the necessity of removing the old bark of the trees once every two years just before spring opens. This should be gathered carefully and burned. It is not only of the greatest benefit to the growth and appearance of the tree, but it also destroys thousands of insects, larva and pupa in them, which have their winter quarters under the loose pieces of bark, just getting ready for their destructive work as soon as spring opens. "One ounce of prevention is better than a pound of cure" and the removal of the old bark is just such an ounce of prevention against the ravages of caterpillars and scale in summer.


I was taught some years ago by our local nurserymen, to do all tree pruning when the trees were dormant, or when the sap was down; but from my own experience, and observation of late years, I do all my pruning when the sap is up and I recommend same to all my friends. In our own locality, the center of Ohio, I find the month of June and usually the first two weeks of July (if the weather conditions are right) is the best season of year to do this work.

One should always use a sharp, fine-tooth saw, and as soon as the trees are pruned paint the cuts with one coat of thin paint. Never leave any stubs when pruning, but cut always just as close as possible to the trunk of the tree, so that the cambium gets a chance to close the wound, and the sap must be up in the tree in order to promote this growth. Cambium is the white and softer part of wood between the inner bark and the wood. It is popularly called the sap-wood. This is annually acquiring firmness and thus becoming hard wood.

If a limb is cut when the sap is down, and has to stand several months, before the sap rises up again this cut becomes hard and dry, and in most cases the cambium never starts to grow and in a few years the cut is rotten and makes a home for insects and we all know that where we have insects we cannot have a healthy tree.

I think the secret of fine exterior foliage is mostly due to a good, clear, healthy interior, entirely free from suckers, dead wood and all small branches that do not help to make up a pleasing exterior.

The sunlight and air should reach every part of the tree.

Do not prune simply because you see your neighbor pruning, but start about your work with the aim of accomplishing a certain fixed purpose, and never cut a branch from your tree unless you have a reason for so doing.

The tree may be spread, or it may be contracted, by cutting to a bud that point outward for the former or to a bud that inclines inward for the later. If this be done intelligently it will prove of great value in the training of your trees. As a rule, the weaker the growth the harder it should be pruned back. This will encourage a heavier wood growth the following season.

By this article it can be seen that growing fine trees is not a sinecure, but still it is a glorious work, demanding a man's whole energy and unfailing love for Nature, and one of her most beautiful creations--the tree.

From the publication:
AACS - Proceedings of the 23rd Annual Convention
Held at New York City, NY
September 14, 15 and 16, 1909