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  • Any tree experts in? Should I cut this dead branch off?
  • Premier Icon thenorthwind
    Full Member

    The house we moved into in the autumn has two apple trees in the garden. One of them has a major branch that’s completely dead and I’m wondering whether I should chop it off for the health of the tree.

    If so, I suspect I should have done it in the winter… is it too late now?

    Hope these pictures show what I mean:

    Premier Icon bearnecessities
    Full Member

    If it’s dead it doesn’t matter and even if it’s not completely dead, that’s such a big tree it won’t matter.

    Edit: I am not an expert – lazy amateur at best.

    Premier Icon WorldClassAccident
    Free Member

    Unless it looks like it will fall then I would leave it.

    If you do decide to do it then Google Jump Cuts. Not sure if they are the right thing for your tree but they can be quite exciting

    Premier Icon thenorthwind
    Full Member

    Google Jump Cuts

    Given your username, I’m not sure I should do that 😀 … strain on the NHS and all that…

    So that’s one for and one against. Bloody democracy.

    Premier Icon perchypanther
    Free Member

    “If it’s dead, cut it off”

    Lord Horatio Nelson

    Premier Icon mogrim
    Full Member

    “And don’t forget to film it in case it all goes horribly wrong”

    Also Lord Horatio Nelson.

    Premier Icon trailwagger
    Free Member

    If its dead, then yes. Don’t try to do it in a one`r. Make several cuts to remove sections before the last cut to remove the last foot or so.

    Premier Icon Vader
    Free Member

    What trailwagger said. Also a small cut under the branch where it is to be removed will stop the bark tearing back and help make a clean cut.

    Hard to tell exactly from the pics but it looks like a prune is in order next winter. Loads of good videos on you tube for apple tree pruning, I did mine and got bumper crops.

    Premier Icon Murray
    Full Member

    What you need is a big crane and chainsaws, lot of chainsaws

    Premier Icon donald
    Free Member

    Good firewood apple

    Premier Icon Vader
    Free Member

    Better pie filling apple

    Premier Icon globalti
    Free Member

    Enjoyed that video. Those guys are really skilled and experienced. He was using the little saw one-handed a lot of the time.

    …..and yes, cut the dead branch off the apple tree before it begins to rot. With luck it will be perfect for burning next winter.

    Premier Icon dyna-ti
    Free Member

    Take note it is a sizable branch and even dead will weigh a fair bit. Cut off it could unbalance the tree and maybe not send it crashing through the neighbours lock–up into his prized rebuilt Triumph Stag but could start to overbalance and come down slowly, well to start with.

    Premier Icon thenorthwind
    Full Member

    TBH, I was kind of hoping I would get a bit of applewood out of this. I’d like to have a go at carving a spoon, though not sure if it’ll still be “green” in the practical sense if it’s dead – presumably there’ll be no sap flowing through it? And then the remainder for smoking chips.

    If it’s unbalanced, the worst that could happen would be falling into my neighbour’s 30ft conifer (which you can see behind), which I’m a bit worried is going to starve my apple of light and water.

    Premier Icon dangeourbrain
    Full Member

    Silly question since you mention the conifer.

    Is that branch actually dead? My hazel has a big branch like that but, where it actually gets light (right at the end) it comes into leaf every year, just the first 20′ looks dead. One a decent tree is easy to think the live bits are other branches.

    Premier Icon jamiemcf
    Full Member

    If it’s dead cut it off if you fancy. As said above sometimes they have life at the ends and nowt in between. Trees normally die from the top down. Have a gander at stag headed limes.

    A wee bit of tree health. Trees are generating organisms. Unlike us who have the ability to regenerate tissue.
    When a limb dies on the tree, the tree will compartmentalise internally to stop the rot spreading to other tissues.

    Compartmentalisation Of Decay In Trees

    https://www.google.com/imgres?imgurl=https%3A%2F%2Fbugwoodcloud.org%2Fimages%2F1536x1024%2F5043008.jpg&imgrefurl=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.forestryimages.org%2Fbrowse%2Fdetail.cfm%3Fimgnum%3D5043008&docid=LtLjV7cIriPVrM&tbnid=1hK0vN5JaxjW_M%3A&vet=1&source=sh%2Fx%2Fim

    Pruning to the branch collar opposite angle to the branch bark ridge

    https://www.google.com/imgres?imgurl=https%3A%2F%2Fdeepgreenpermaculture.files.wordpress.com%2F2019%2F07%2Fpruningtreebranchescollar.jpg%3Fw%3D640&imgrefurl=https%3A%2F%2Fdeepgreenpermaculture.com%2F2019%2F07%2F07%2Ftree-pruning-how-to-remove-tree-branches-correctly%2F&docid=TnSnlqrpyuGI6M&tbnid=i0VRULeZiQfliM%3A&vet=1&source=sh%2Fx%2Fim

    Jamie

    Premier Icon timbog160
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    As to that vid – that is one serious, serious chipper!

    Premier Icon mattarb
    Free Member

    Do you have access to a pole saw and long reach loppers? Looking at the tangled mess if you just severed the dead branch experience says that it would probably just sit there. As for removing it. well standing deadwood is one of the rarer habitats, it depends on the cause of death. Is there a strip of dead bark beneath the union? It would also be wise to do something about the brash at the base of the trees. Is the Collared Dove roosting or looking to nest? The gnome might need moving, it’s a bit of a target.

    Premier Icon thenorthwind
    Full Member

    Hard to tell exactly from the pics but it looks like a prune is in order next winter. Loads of good videos on you tube for apple tree pruning, I did mine and got bumper crops.

    Cheers, will investigate in the winter. It was low priority this winter having just moved in. Suspect it’s been neglected.

    Is that branch actually dead?

    There’s definitely not a single green shoot on the entire branch, whereas the rest of the tree is starting to blossom. Hard to show in a photo, but:

    Looking at the tangled mess if you just severed the dead branch experience says that it would probably just sit there.

    It’s hard to see in the photos, but there’s no live bits underneath it, it would drop down no problem.

    Is there a strip of dead bark beneath the union?

    Couple of photos of the union (where the bird feeder is in the previous photos).

    It would also be wise to do something about the brash at the base of the trees.

    Interesting. Is there a reason it shouldn’t be there? I put it there to provide a bit of habitat for insects since it was quite bare. I checked with an ecologist friend who works in woodland management and she said it was fine.

    Is the Collared Dove roosting or looking to nest?

    I didn’t ask it 🙂 Probably waiting for me to p**s off so it can get at the seeds on the floor under the feeder.

    The gnome might need moving, it’s a bit of a target.

    😀

    Premier Icon CountZero
    Full Member

    Leaving brash for invertebrates is a good idea, however it’s usually left out in the open, rather than
    around the base of the tree, where I think there could be a risk of encouraging rot or fungal infection to
    get into the base of the tree. I know that if putting mulch around the base of an apple tree there should
    be a clear ring left around the trunk itself.

    There’s something very odd about the formatting on this page, too.

    Premier Icon mcmoonter
    Free Member

    Fans of the August Hunicke video should check out the Reg Coates and Buckin BIlly Ray Smith YouTube channels, a bit lower on equipment but hugely entertaining in their own ways

    Premier Icon mattarb
    Free Member

    There doesn’t appear to be dead bark beneath the union but if you give it a tap, preferably with a soft faced hammer, it will sound flat or hollow depending on how detached it has become.

    Now to the nitty gritty, I assume that you intend to remove the large diameter branch and not the small one that looks to be about 60mm diameter. If this is so I strongly recommend finding someone with a chainsaw and the competence to use it, failing that obtain something like a Silky, make sure that you are not alone, attach a rope a reasonable distance up the branch, double check that the branch is in no way hung up, cut a gob with at least a 90 deg. opening and with a depth about 1/3 the diameter of the branch, the plan is for the branch to remain attached to the tree until the tips are resting on the ground you don’t want to put the butt through the fence, the apex should be clean with no bypass. For the direction have a good look at the shape formed by the branch tips the hinge you are going to form needs to allow for this shape to cleanly exit from the rest of the tree and also not damage anything on its way down. You can now start the back cut, this needs to be level with and parallel to the apex of the gob, bring the back cut up to form a hinge with thickness about 1/10 the diameter of the branch. Now assuming it hasn’t barber chaired on you get out of the way and use the rope to pull the branch over. Congratulate yourself on a job well done and get the brash monkeys to clean up the mess you’ve just made. Tidy up the stub and have a mug of tea.

    Count Zero is correct about avoiding a build up of material close to the trunk, best practice according to BS 8545. Let me know if you can get a straight answer regarding the optimal way to construct a habitat pile or even if there is one.

    Premier Icon jamiemcf
    Full Member

    Rather than tidy the stump, give it a coronet cut. My dissertation was on deadwood habitat provision. Not as tidy as a good pruning cut. It’ll appear to rot into the tree but the tree will take care of not rotting internally.

    Premier Icon mattarb
    Free Member

    Vicki Bengtsson delivered an interesting lecture at last years Amenity Arb. Conference. It covered many more techniques than coronet cutting and natural fracture pruning, if you haven’t yet visited Killerton House there is nice example of some them used on a veteranised Oak in the park. Had the experience of being guided round the estate at an ATF event with Ted Green, interesting.

    Might be tricky to produce an effective coronet cut in this instance as the facility to plunge cut would not be available without a chainsaw, but working from the ground perseverance and wood chisels augmenting the handsaw could work.

    Premier Icon timber
    Full Member

    But a coronet cut would go against the idea of preserving the tree for future fruit production as it encourages decay and rot rather than a healing wound.
    The tree has compartmentalised, you would just be mitigating the risk of the branch dropping.

    Premier Icon jamiemcf
    Full Member

    Timber: the tree would compartmentalise internally, the branch wood within the tree would rot, but eh sound wood from the main stem would remain sound.

    I was digressing slightly, bored while a toddler was refusing to go to sleep and watching endless postman pat and bing. A s a habitat type that is fundamental to woodland ecology tehre are massive shortages of standing and horizontal deadwood.

    as said above, i’d get all that brash away and stacked into a pile, most of it looks leafy and green which will die down, if you remove the branch the wood from that would make for better deadwood habitat, cut it up into manageable lengths and stack it, leave the bark on as it provides habitat and shelter for invertebrates. Birds often look under flakes of bark for insects.

    Northwind, you’re borders based yeah? when allof this is over i have a Silky Zubat you can borrow if you want. Great saws and vicious with your knuckles.

    For all my chat about coronet cuts i was getting carried away with the deadwood. your best bet would be to do your felling cut 6″ or so above the collar then trim back to the branch collar, this aims to eliminate ripping the bark of the healthy stem tissue.

    Premier Icon mattarb
    Free Member

    Jamiemcf do you have a copy of BS 3998:2010, it has a good diagram illustrating the position of final pruning cuts, particularly where the neither the collar nor the branch bark ridge are well defined. I think this would be useful for Northwind as I assume he’s not familiar with these features. Most of the diagrams on the net show clear ridges and collars not present on the images of Northwind’s tree. Not entirely sure about flagrantly breaching BSi’s copyright and I am a little too far to let him have sight of my copy.

    Premier Icon bearnecessities
    Full Member

    This is rapidly becoming my favourite thread for a while. Awesome knowledge.

    Premier Icon swdan
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    To highjack the thread I was having a similar conversation about dead branches with my wife yesterday. What do the STW masses think to take these dead branches down? Any reason not to if I do it slow and steady?

    Premier Icon mattarb
    Free Member

    As above the tree is not particularly large so depending on the equipment that you have access to I would go with a qualified yes.
    The tree looks like a Judas Tree from what little foliage and flower that has flushed, it’s a shame that die back has extended this far and if it fails to show some recovery it may well be terminal. I suspect that it may be suffering from Verticillium Wilt, if you inspect the cut end of a branch the presence of dark brown to black rings are reasonably indicative. If this is confirmed you could replant with a more resistant species, Katsura has similar shaped leaves but not the flowers in the Spring, has lovely Autumn colouring though or if you have the space Liquidambar makes a wonderful tree.

    Premier Icon jamiemcf
    Full Member

    Mattarb, I don’t have a copy, I’ve been out the full time professional tree game for quite a while. At my former company I had some dealings with the standards but now I’m only really concerned cwith network rail standards.

    I’ll look through some books for a good diagram when I get a chance. I’ve got some good Shigo and Mattheck my kicking around.

    Premier Icon AdamT
    Full Member

    I stumbled across this thread and also find it super interesting.. like an artform! I’m a total noob and wouldn’t do anything substantial myself but I’m curious to know what could be done do one of my trees. Can anyone link me to “tree surgery basics”?

    Premier Icon timber
    Full Member

    @jamiemcf Lots of different ways depending on the outcomes you want, mine is more from woodland and timber production so thinking of timber grain and tree health. I’m pretty sure orchard specific management would be a little different again as they consider yield and branch union strength. Gardens are different again as issues of how they are used and how they look come into it amongst many random variables and with little dictated on what you can or can’t.

    You’re right about dead wood, hard one to get across though, after years of neglectful management, people now want everything they can out. We find we have to leave whole tree deadwood to stop the wood fairies from pinching it. Not a lot of deadwood seems to stay within 10m of a track otherwise. Our deadwood stock is still pretty healthy though as we are UKWAS/FSC accredited so >18% deadwood.

    That should do for my ramble of work stuff whilst not working.

    Premier Icon thenorthwind
    Full Member

    Wow, appreciate all the detailed replies. I knew this would be the right place for this question.

    I’ll get the brash moved away, thin it down and stack it. It’s the remains of a conifer I cut down at the front of the house.

    Thanks for the offer of the loaner – I’m in Newcastle, but it’s something I’ve been meaning to invest in anyway.

    I know it’s difficult to get a sense of scale in photos, and easy to underestimate the weight of a branch, but I really don’t think it’s going to cause too much of a problem if I do cut it off, I just need to be careful to prevent the bark ripping. Just been and measured it, it’s 15″ in circumference where it leaves the main trunk, but it looks like a large branch has been removed just above, so above that it’s only 11″, so <4″ diameter.

    Could I cut it where the blue line is, if for no other reason than that’s where the bird feeder hangs or is it better to cut it lower down? Presumably if it’s compartmentalised it’ll rot eventually.

    Premier Icon mattarb
    Free Member

    Generally the accepted thinking is to minimize the total exposed wound area, one of the reasons for several small pruning cuts than one large one but this has to be, in this instance, offset against providing fungi with a ready food reserve by leaving a stub. In this instance assuming that ultimate longevity is not a principal concern I would say that you could remove the dead branch at the position you have marked. The presence of the stub in the image may indicate that the tree has been infected by Chondrostereum purpureum, keep an eye on the foliage take note if it starts dying and has a leaden sheen. In some sense it is lucky that you are asking about this now, as pruning members of the Rosaceae family should be undertaken in the Late Spring / Summer particularly when this pathogen is suspected to be present.

    Premier Icon Houns
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    I really wish I had got in to arboriculture years ago. I’m going to look in to it when I finish my current degree purely for the enjoyment

    Premier Icon swdan
    Free Member

    Thanks for the advice @mattarb . I took some of the smaller dead ok ones off today, will see what else I can do safely.

    Think you’re right, it looks like a Judas tree. It used to flower really well when we moved in 8 years ago but last year we noticed half of it didn’t, it probably started previously but we’d have been distracted by babies etc. Hopefully it survives.

    Premier Icon jamiemcf
    Full Member

    Houns,it’s a good hard graft of a job. I only left it to get a better paid job in rope access. Now on the railways examining structures. I miss tree work. I still have a saw though.

    Northwind, for some reason I had you down in the Tweed valley. I’ll make a conscious effort to read south wind. I’m driving past your way tonight to examine a viaduct in Seaham.

    Premier Icon thenorthwind
    Full Member

    Thanks again @mattarb. Will definitely keep an eye out for silver leaf over the summer.

    Agreed @Houns, part of me wishes I’d chosen it as a career, even given the lack of material reward and likelihood of completely wearing yourself out.

    @jamiemcf you might be thinking of Northwind (as opposed to me, thenorthwind)… I think he’s up that way.

    Premier Icon thenorthwind
    Full Member

    Well the deed has been done. Last Sunday actually. I just went ahead a cut it with a sharp jack saw, rather than put it off any longer. I figured it couldn’t be that much more difficult for one cut. I climbed up a bit and strapped the dead branch to a bigger live trunk:

    Then I made the cut, climbed up and unstrapped it and pushed it clear. I did take a small dead branch off on the way down, but that doesn’t look very healthy either:

    Since the cut I was making was horizontal, I thought it wouldn’t tear the bark, but it’s so dry and delaminated that a bit did rip and the end of the cut :-/

    There’s lots of blossom on the bits that are getting light, but I did spot some unhealthy looking leaves:

    I thinned out the brash that was there before and stacked it clear of the base of the trunks. I didn’t add any of what I cut off though, in case it has a fungal infection.

    The gnome survives – for now…

    I might need some advice on the other tree (another apple, different variety) at some point, but I think that’s going to be a lot more complicated. It’s in a better position re. light, but it’s been abused (to my untrained eye) by some harsh pruning at some point. For example, there’s a whole bough, growing at about 45 degrees, probably 10 foot long and 6″ in diameter at a guess, that appears to be completely dead. That is going to unbalance things if it comes off.

    Another example of neglect I noticed while I was off the ground was this branch that’s been pruned, or fallen off, just stuck in the canopy:

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