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More Pruning Advice

Spruces can be pruned, but not a lot.

Only the last two years' growth actively produces food, so if you prune past the "two year point", you're pruning into non-productive wood, and the branch will die back to its parent stem.

Since the average growth rate of a healthy spruce is 8-12" per year, this means you can only safely reduce the overall length of any one branch by a little bit. Even then, you may not get new buds breaking at the tip of the branch, so it's still iffy.

That being said, you can painlessly (to the tree) slow down the growth rate of a spruce, or a pine for that matter, by removing up to one half of the "candle" that forms in the spring. The candle is the elongation of the branch end, from which the needles emerge.

Since it looks like a candle in this stage, we calls it like we sees it. By nipping back the candles, you'll not only keep the tree smaller longer, but it'll keep the tree fuller in appearance.

This pruning practice is best started while the tree is young (small) and kept up. If you stop, the tree will revert to its normal growth pattern, and thin out in appearance over time.

It's best to wait until the candles are as close to fully elongated as possible but before the needles unfurl, typically mid to late June in the Cleveland area. A hand pruner or long-handled lopper will do the trick. The scissors-type head is better than the anvil type.

If you need to remove branches because they are encroaching on a driveway or the house, try "tipping" them back a bit first. If this isn't adequate, you may need to remove the whole branch, or a side branch or two (or three or four or...).

When removing a branch, don't just cut it in the middle somewhere, or leave a stub. It'll probably just die on you anyway, plus it won't look good either. It's generally better to cut the branch back to its parent stem, or at least to a side branch, and make a clean cut of it.

The tree will close a cut of this type over more rapidly and better than if you leave a stub.

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Tom Mugridge

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