Practicing the delicate art of tree trimming

WHEN NOBODY else is looking, I sneak out of the house and trim trees.

It is difficult to work on the sly when you are toting a 7-foot-tall expandable tree-trimming tool, but I try. I don't want any supervision. I am a guy, and like most guys with an active Paul Bunyan hormone, I like to cut things down.


Not being a guy, my wife does not have this hormone. This means that usually she does not appreciate my tree-trimming work. As a matter of fact, most of the time she opposes it on the grounds that I don't know what I am doing.

On a few occasions we have tried to trim together, and the results have not been pretty. Our exchange has gone something like this


Husband: I am going to trim the trees.

Wife: Do you think they really need it?

Husband: When branches brush against your head, they gotta go.

Wife: Remember to trim, don't whack, and don't cut too much.

Husband: I never whack.

Wife: You always whack.

At this point, any chance of joyful cooperation is shot. The latent lumberjack in me starts to emerge and I have a compelling urge to saw the nearest large limbs.

Meanwhile, my wife becomes the protector of all things leafy. She contends that nothing but the deadest of the deadwood should be touched with my tree-trimming blades.


Like many troubled couples, we have sought professional help. We have hired tree trimmers, guys with serious saws who reconfigure the trees. My tongue hangs out as I watch these guys. They get to hack off major foliage and, because they are professionals, nobody questions their artistic judgment. It doesn't seem fair.

However, in-between visits from the pros, there is occasionally the need for a little maintenance trimming. That was the case the other night, when I grabbed the tree trimmer and went to work on the dogwoods.

It has been a good year for leafage. Our dogwood trees seem to have thrived in this summer's cool, drippy weather. They have sent out a lot of new shoots from old branches, including some especially low-hanging shoots that took up residence in a neighbor's backyard. The neighbor asked that the low-hangers be trimmed and I was more than willing to comply.

My wife agreed that some shearing was needed. But she thought the deed could be done with "just a snip or two." I had other plans. I wanted to saw off the entire limb.

I carefully chose the timing of my tree-trimming expedition. It fell just before supper when my wife was busy in the kitchen. I was alone with the limb.

However, I quickly realized that this could be a big job. The limb was several years old, and pretty thick. I didn't see how I could remove it without harming the tree.


If I tried to cut the limb down, it was entirely possible that I would end up proving that my wife was right: that when it came to limb removal, I didn't know what I was doing

This was a humbling thought, even to a guy with the lumberjack hormone in his blood. So instead of sawing off the limb at the tree trunk, I merely snipped off a few low-hanging branches.

Later, I read the proper way to remove a limb. You make three cuts. The first cut is made about 12 inches from the trunk and one-third of the way through the underside of the branch. The second cut starts above the first cut. When the second cut saws through the limb, you have removed the bulk of the branch. The final cut is made closer to the trunk just outside something called "the branch collar." Such a properly trimmed tree looks good and heals quickly.

The three-cut procedure looks complicated. But during my summer vacation, I plan to sneak out in the woods with my tree trimmer and practice proper limb removal.

The other evening after I finished trimming the branches in the neighbor's yard, my head brushed against another low-hanging branch, a fresh offshoot of another backyard dogwood.

I readied my tree trimmer, and when my wife wasn't looking, I whacked off that branch.