Spruce tree skirting is the practice of removing branches from the bottom of the canopy up to a predetermined height. Depending on the size of the tree, the height can be anywhere from a few inches to several feet. There are many reasons to leave your spruce tree canopies low but just as many to lift them up, it is really a matter of circumstance. In this post we will outline reasons for both.
First, let’s go over why you should leave your spruce tree canopies low. Unless there is a specific reason to lift the canopy of your coniferous tree, you should avoid it. The benefits from having the trees canopies at their natural level are:
- Coniferous trees like acidic soil. When they drop their needles, the acidity of the soil will change as the needles breakdown, which is better suited for the tree. When the canopy is raised not only are the branches that drop the needles being removed, but you are also allowing the wind to blow away the fallen needles. This prevents the tree from altering the soil as it likes, as well as allowing ground moisture to escape.
- Can weaken the trees integrity. The lower branches of coniferous trees help support the higher ones when weighed down by snow. Without the support of the large limbs underneath some branches may break under the pressure. The cone shape also acts as a uniform wind barrier, on smaller trees the exposed lower trunk will not resist wind while the top will, causing more trunk bending than is normally dealt with. Most mature trees can handle that pressure without issue but smaller trees with thinner trunks can be too small to handle that stress.
- Due to the shape of most coniferous trees the lowest limbs account for the most foliage. Removing more than 25-30% of a trees canopy at a time can cause the tree to stress and possibly start to decline. When the lower part of the canopy is raised, care needs to be taken not to remove too much.
- On most coniferous trees the lowest limbs are the largest. When removed that creates the largest possible pruning wounds, aside from topping (please do not top your tree unless necessary). The healing process on these wounds can take some time and those wounds present convenient entries into the trees’ core for parasites and disease. Ensure branches are removed correctly to help the tree heal as quickly as possible.
Some reasons to raise the canopies on spruce trees are:
- Protect the tree from damage. If the lower canopy is going to be damaged from vehicles parking nearby, snowplows in the winter, or by mowers running around them, then it is better to raise the canopy out of the way. In rural shelter belts where livestock is present, it is best to try and keep the animals out of the trees’ lower canopies in order to prevent damage. Broken branches cannot heal correctly and will die. This deadwood in turn becomes a weakness to the tree as a whole.
- To improve visibility. Near roadways where being able to see through the lower canopy is important for safety, it may be wise to lift the canopies of coniferous trees. If personal safety is of concern, the spruce tree canopies can be raised to remove hiding places for security risks.
- The lower canopies of spruce trees can grow thick enough that garbage and debris can be trapped at the tree base. Access for the garbage removal or to prevent its entrapment in the first place is a common reason to lift spruce canopies.
- Public safety can be a valid reason to lift spruce tree canopies. If the tree is over or nearby public walkways, then lifting the tree out of the way can be better than removing the tree all together.
Lifting spruce canopies should be avoided unless doing so is better for the tree long term or important for safety. If is reasonable to do so, make sure the correct amount of foliage is removed properly so that the tree can heal as fast as possible. Most coniferous trees in Alberta are extremely hardy and can handle a canopy lift, as long as the lift is considerate of tree size and current tree health.