Beech trees are an immensely popular addition to European gardens because they are so... well... immense. It can be a bit confusing because there are many different kinds of beech trees and many of them look quite different from one another.
The good news is that caring for all the different varieties of beech trees requires the same basic techniques, so no matter what species of beech tree you're dealing with, this article has got you covered.
The beech trees most commonly planted in Ireland and elsewhere in Europe are well suited to creating hedges and, in this case, pruning is essential to obtain that classic "hedge look", although it's important to remember that hedge trimming is another requirement for this.
It was important to point that out because many people, including those who write about hedge care, use the terms pruning and trimming interchangeably, when they're actually distinct processes.
Why Prune a Beech Tree
Pruning a beech tree helps maintain its appearance, health, and growth rate. It works quite similarly to the way that cutting your hair actually stimulates re-growth and helps to keep it healthy.
But pruning does need to be done with care. You need to remember that, in the process, you are physically removing a part of the tree. If it's not done correctly, you'll be doing more harm than good.
Therefore, your goal should be to prune your beech tree(s) without harming it/them, and in a way that gives the best chance for healthy growth in the future.
When to Prune a Beech Tree
The best time to prune a beech tree depends on the stage of maturity the tree is at and the desired end use of the tree. When the tree is intended to be part of a hedge, the best time to prune it is in mid-June.
If the tree is being used decoratively in the garden and not as part of a hedge, it's better to prune it in March. You'll also want to do this with a hedge if you want to limit how tall it grows, but most hedge owners are happy to have tall hedges.
And finally, when your goal is simply to grow a mighty beech tree, you will do best to prune it in winter. The tree will respond with vigorous growth when spring arrives. Doing it at this time is good because the tree is effectively "asleep", so it's akin to performing surgery under anesthetic.
How to Prune a Beech Tree
The method for pruning smaller beech trees with thin branches is relatively simple. Provided you carry out regular pruning, your tree should never be difficult to prune later on.
For thin branches you can use ordinary pruning shears. Thicker branches may require heavy-duty pruning shears or even a pruning saw (sawing creates more trauma than shearing, and is more dangerous to perform, so should be done only when necessary).
Very thick branches are sometimes pruned with a chainsaw, but this is not recommended. Chainsaws can be quite destructive, create pollution, and are more dangerous to operate than other garden equipment.
When removing a branch, cut at a slight angle upward, close to the trunk, but leaving a slight stub. If you cut perfectly flush with the trunk, it can create a wound in the trunk that can be detrimental to the overall health of the tree, so be careful.
The branches to remove are:
- Branches that cross the growth path of another branch, especially if they are twisted.
- Branches growing too close together.
- Branches showing signs of disease, or with poor foliage.
- Branches that appear to be surrendering to gravity.
The final step after pruning is to apply dressing to the wounds you've created to help protect the tree from disease and the ravages of insects.