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If you take Director of Urban Forestry Marc Welch’s tree pruning class, you never look at trees the same way again. At last count (literally) we have about 26,000 street trees in Newton (down from about 40,000 in the 1970s, and dropping), and there’s probably something that needs to be fixed on most of them. Can’t do much about the big stuff up high, but the Citizen Pruners I’m involved with are doing what we can lower down, and trying to get recently planted trees off to a better start.

For example, I got an email from Madison Ave. about one of the serviceberries the Newton Tree Conservancy planted in 2010, where the lowest branch was sort of blocking the sidewalk  (left). On young trees all the branches are low, and normally you want to give a tree three years or so to recover from transplanting before taking anything off. On the other hand, branches that stick out seem to be susceptible to being broken, either by accident or (we think) by kids, like this pear tree last week in Nonantum Square (right).

Marc said okay to pruning the serviceberry branch, but since we’ll be back in a year or two to do the rest of the tree, I took a middle ground, and for now just removed the part sticking out sideways. One of the interesting things about pruning is that, like chess, you often find yourself thinking three steps ahead, especially with the many trees that need a lot of catch-up pruning and you can’t do it all at once. We’ve used the lindens at West Newton Common for pruning training about five times, and we’re still working on thinning out branches that are too close together (left). “Reducing” a branch helps slow down its growth in relation to the trunk, so when we cut off the rest, it’s a smaller cut that the trunk will grow over faster.

We like suggestions for places to prune, so if you notice any blocks or streets, especially where a lot of trees need work that is reachable from the ground with pole tools, such as branches that are dead or broken or low enough to impede pedestrians or get hit by vehicles, mention it here, put in a request through the 311 system, or email Marc at [email protected] with the location and type of problem(s). Citizen Pruners worked on some Newton Centre alley trees last summer because we got an email.

And we also welcome more people, so if you’d like to help, come to this spring’s training which begins April 10. (Here’s how to register.)