Aesthetic (Fine) Pruning

edzard(3b Canada)November 15, 2005

One of the other parameters that I have been trying to find identification for is that of 'aesthetic pruning' which in the ISA (International Society of Arboriculture) is termed 'fine' pruning.

A number of websites are geared to both terms and seem to indicate roughly the same thing.

excepting that none of them explain what that 'thing' is. This would indicate that it is industry driven, call yourself what ya wanna be... or should it be market driven? What do garden owners want and what would they believe in?

What would be the job description, and skills needed to be either or both, if there is a difference, and is there one that is more apt for the Japanese garden?

Some web sites even separate them based only on what height of tree is being pruned.

once again, i ponder and muse over what the definitions are, and should there be an industry standard developed?

like,... who ya gonna call, when the garden needs trusting care? what would you be looking for? experiences? keywords? education?



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Hi Edzard,
I would term "fine prunning" as finger prunning as a lot of Junipers do not like the cold steel of a pair of scissors when prunning, along with some other conifers I have a few Sawara Cypress's which have to be finger prunned,as you can see this was ready for finger prunning when I took the photo last year, this one is in a pot but it was in the ground for a number of years.

Here is a link that might be useful: sawara cypress

    Bookmark   November 15, 2005 at 4:51PM
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edzard(3b Canada)

George,.. thats a fine looking Sawara.
Are the insides turning brown? One of the pads is showing this...
Interesting, the difference in approaches, that being, if I was asked which method to use for pruning, scissors or fingers, I'd be using scissors on that one to cut the stems and thin it before you lose 60% of the inside.

do you not find that finger pinching increases the foliage density?

    Bookmark   November 15, 2005 at 6:02PM
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George, a group of Japanese gardeners from Kumamoto once told me not to use iron pruners on any Junipers, but only stainless. When I asked why stainless had a different impact, they didn't know. So I use stainless. Since I have the luxury of having several Japanese gardeners in town, I will ask again!

Edzard, a question for a question (forgive); is there a different name for someone who prunes existing trees for aesthetics than for someone who starts with a 1 meter plant and "creates" the tree's aesthetic basically from scratch? Although the latter is better represented as training, I wonder where most people would draw the line?

What do garden owners want? I think they "want" the instant pleasure of pre-trained trees, then "need" aesthetic or fine pruning to maintain that state. Most would not be patient enough to endure the training time, or the drastic pruning in their garden.

I believe there should be an industry standard. Although I haven't seen other industry standards like "certified arborist" prove reliable. Its still a matter of accomplishments and references when it comes down to trusting one's prized trees to the blade.

    Bookmark   November 15, 2005 at 8:25PM
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edzard(3b Canada)

The Certified Arborist designation is one of the areas this casual survey would be addressing. Unfortunately ISA normally works from industry driven needs, that are through availability of people interested in fine pruning, rather than from market, home owner driven needs.

Sentei work differs from nurserymens work, the training etc., where the nurseryman does not venture into the field with clients, as he knows his trees for the gardeners taste, yet does not know how they fit into the landscape that has been created. Occasionally I have spoken with people that do cross-over. (this is where you were going?)

It does seem that the Japanese garden pruning arena is a DIY area rather than one that calls the specialist. On the otherhand, many gardeners work with clients to achieve their own skills so that they can eventually do it themselves after the first 10 years*. By this time the garden is almost set in pattern, and generally can be followed with occasional downturns when catastrophies happen, branches lost need decisions made.
(or as in my case a maintenance company has removed 6 years of planned growth, which forever alters the garden unless new trees are planted)

*(not to mention that at some point the gardener needs to choose which clients will be kept and which fall by the wayside due to too much work and no apprentices to take over for continued learning while gaining a clientele of their own)

Which then becomes either a crisis or an opportunity, depending on where one stands, and whether one overcomes the North American need to compete in making ones own 'style statement'.

Calling an arborist is not a solution, unless they happen to have some training beyond what they currently have. The designation (fine pruners) is there, yet there is no program as of yet for what they should know.

Dennis Makishima has gone a long way in teaching aesthetic pruning, yet even he has mentioned that he does not know what goes where in a garden, therefore knowing what to prune how, is not possible. If he knew the what, then the how is answered.

so what should aesthetic/fine pruners know from a homeowners perspective?

    Bookmark   November 15, 2005 at 9:19PM
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On Monday of this week I saw a man sitting in the canopy of a mature weeping Malus cutting off the upright growth with a gas powered hedge trimmer. This was part of what is known as 'fall clean-up' which as far as I can tell has no horticultural content at all. 'Fall clean-up' involves razing flower beds to the ground, cutting the grass shorter than normal and chasing all evidence of a leaf out into the street. What remains is a sterile landscape that won't change even when covered with snow. This is what the homeowners want and this is what people like the guy up the tree supply. The notion of pruning for aesthetics (other than the tidy one that is) is not even close, neither is the timing of the pruning nor pruning for flowers nor to stimulate growth or whatever and there are very slim pickings for anyone attempting to turn back the tide.

    Bookmark   November 16, 2005 at 8:23AM
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edzard(3b Canada)

I've seen much the same here, and have even gone to the homeowners door and asked if this was what they wanted, clean beds yes (even though they will not be frost resistant), yet the pruning was wanted, however not roughly done, 'hack and slash vegetation management' seemed not to be part of the equation...
they had wished for more expertise, but did not know who to call, and 'the trial' pruning was offered by the fall cleanup guy, who obviously was also from the eastern orchard belt.
(which curiously, there are people/companies that specialize in pruning orchards in Ontario)

Still wonder what people want, or perhaps, they don't know...

    Bookmark   November 16, 2005 at 2:22PM
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Hi Edzard,
Yes the insides do get brown but I do trim the brown out with scissors, which also lets the air circulate and does slow the browning process, it is only the foliage that needs finger prunning, I forgot to mention why I hadn't pruned it at the time the photo was taken, the reason was a Jenny Wren had nested in the top pad.

Here is a link that might be useful: George's Japanese Garden

    Bookmark   November 16, 2005 at 6:17PM
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Hello Edzard
A good question indeed. I have pondered the difference between fine and aesthetic pruning many times over the years. I came up with (for my own sanity) a self serving definition that makes me happy. It is as follows.
Fine pruning in my humble opinion is pretty well the definition of the class 1 fine prune ie; dead, diseased, dangerous, crossing, down to 1/2 inch in diameter.
Aesthetic being the performing of the above as well as all dead material right down to the smallest twigs, needles etc. In addition the shaping, and manipulation pruning so evident and prevalent in the Jgarden environment.
The homeowner wants and needs is a difficult one to come up with an answer to indeed. In my area the same issue abounds. It seems to me that more people are of the mindset that the trees are more trouble than they are worth. Hence, call the "tree guy" and have him cut the tops off so we won't have so many leaves next year. Its so difficult to educate and get people believing that there are a few (and I really believe "few") people out there that are superb pruners, highly skilled and trained (and I include you in this group)who do excellent work. ISA is okay but somehow I am beginning to believe that their certification process has not produced better arborists. I know of many who are certified but haven't pruned a tree in years and to be honest have seen some pretty poor work done by Certified guys.

    Bookmark   November 27, 2005 at 6:23PM
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edzard(3b Canada)

I do often wonder if poor pruning is an 'in my area' issue. Since I live in the same area, I would concurr with your definition. especially observing that 'fine' indicates only what size of limb the pruner will go down to before they give up on detailing.
The sad part about the lack of pruning skills extends to most gardens, as the skills of pruning trees using Japanese techniques is also in part required for English gardens, general homes for front end curb appeal, of which hedges (the laying of which is unique) is also used in JGardens.

one of the largest groups to bring fine pruning closer to the aesthetic pruning arena are the Urban Foresters, who look at/consider the entire area, rather than just the single tree as a stand alone specimen.
An area where aesthetic pruning is also needed and often used would be the Alpine group, of which you would be familiar, yet if planted optimally, little pruning is ever necessary to keep things in scale. Skill of planting being the primary skill.

Perhaps an overall question would be if Aesthetic pruning is even needed or useful in many areas... perhaps it isn't needed at all.

Conversely, almost, where do people go to look and what do they look for, if they feel a tree or shrub requires special attention, or that they have special aesthetic requests in the pruning area??

or do they just 'figure it out' themselves??

    Bookmark   November 28, 2005 at 9:25AM
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I think the 'my area issue' is far more widespread than one would like to believe! It seems every town and city I visit I see evidence of topping, poor pruning and homeowner hacking. I really believe the homeowners are just not in tune with proper practices for a couple of reasons; first being, they think professional consultation is "too expensive", Ive heard this too many times. Second, they just don't seem to think that poor pruning harms the trees. "Just look at the new growth sprouting from where they were cut, must have done something good". Its been a tough sell.

I should also say that yes there are a very few interested in the aesthetic pruning of various trees and shrubs. The Urban Foresters I think are to a degree, but I think their contribution, as you say, is to an area rather than individual trees. So does one have to prune each tree in the area to an aesthetic level? or would a fine prune of all the trees in the area create a more aesthetically pleasing environment.

I do feel aesthetic pruning has its place, There are some magnificent new and established homes and gardens that when the plantings around them are maintained to a higher degree (aesthetically), they look and feel that much better. In addition to increasing property value as well. This applies to neighborhoods, parks and public gardens as well.

Finally, where DO people go for information or to learn how to maintain their own material? Take some time to look in the phone book, call a number of professionals and ask a million questions! If there is a maintained garden in the area go and watch and ask questions of the gardener. Sometimes I think patience is lacking when people want this type of work performed.

    Bookmark   December 4, 2005 at 5:46PM
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I think that almost everyone prunes with some kind of aesthetics, doesnÂt (s)he ? Unless you prunes madly like Rambo you involve some kind of beauty in the job.

In Bonsai, I will use the term fine pruning to distinguish the job from severe pruning. Maybe for pruning the second, third, fourth degrees little branches. Pinching is a technique used within fine pruning, because some species will turn brown if you prunes the twiggy little shoots with scissors. And yes, brown colour is something most people donÂt like within a nice green foliage of a Bonsai. Pure aesthetics.

The Japanese aesthetic way of pruning comes shortly to remove all downwards branches, vertically upwards branches, crossing branches, U-branches, T-branches, double branches, etc.. In a very short description: it will bring order in the chaos of the nature, and itÂs a combination of aesthetics and botanical purposes (to keep the tree healthy and so prolongs their lives).

I wonder where this discussion leads to Â.

    Bookmark   December 7, 2005 at 3:50AM
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coachsmyth(4 Canada NWBC)

As long as it's not another 87 posting battle between the usual combatants (over the usual things)........

    Bookmark   December 8, 2005 at 2:28AM
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ScottReil_GD(z5 CT)

While some pruning corrects mechanical defects, I am in agreement with Ron it is mostly aesthetic, even in the mind of those doing it badly (many)...

I am often horrified by "professional" pruning and find poor knowledge amongst nurserymen how to prune what (the difference between pruning an azalea and say, a lilac), and arborists seem to be cognizant of basic technique, but lack the knowledge (or the will) for fine pruning (my buddy who is an arborist has next years work booked already, so fast is good...).

But I wonder about the general need (business model type demographics) for fine pruning. Does the average "done is good" homeowner want this work? And does the more aesthetically inclined client exist in numbers to support a certified "fine pruner"? If there is enough for one or two experts, is there enough to support an organization to do certification? Edzard, you know I value your opinion, and the area I live in is not economically depressed by any means, but there ae a few good folk living off of the few rich folk so inclined and breaking into that market is like a knife fight in the dark; fast and vicious, and you're lucky to come out in one piece...

I do think there is a "where you are at" quotient here that is extremely restrictive, but will wait for further opining by interested parties before I make up my mind...


    Bookmark   December 8, 2005 at 4:54PM
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Ive decided to look up the words "aesthetic" and "fine" at dictionary .com. Ive come to a conclusion after pondering the various definitions of the words that we
fine ( of superior quality, skill,or appearance) prune in order to stimulate the aesthetic faculties (of or concerning the appreciation of beauty or good taste).
I am satisfied that fine pruning is a good term for quality pruning which creates a planting that is pleasing to the eye, mind, and spirit ( aesthetics). LoL


    Bookmark   December 8, 2005 at 7:04PM
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yama(7b Ga)

Hi all

mony/profit driven work ethic and money saving/cheapest estimation are wanted by home owers ..... push away good work. ....................mike

    Bookmark   December 24, 2005 at 12:56AM
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In regards to "aesthetic" and "fine" ... pruning "

I've been working in the landscape industry for well over two decades and was certified by ISA long ago ... I prune plants daily and this is my experience on the situation.

The term "fine" is a bit silly .. like fine wine .. fine food .. it may earn someone a buck more or so an hour if they can say it with a straight face.

More relavent is the term "aesthetic" ...

The term "aesthetic" simply refers to what the tree looks like let's say in terms of an "artistic" view .. it is used the same way as it is in everyday language. Aesthetic is used to differentiate from "structural" pruning which is concernened with the physical soundness of the tree as it grows overtime. Structural pruning can be thought of as an engineering solution to tree growth.

So with each pruning cut a thought conflict emergers in the gardener .. is this a structural cut or an aesthetic cut ? .. Is this the right cut or the wrong cut ? Am I cutting the tree as I was taught or not ?

This conflict can make pruning a much undesirable activity ... even after pruning cuts are made some will still be unhappy regardelss of what cuts were made this way or not.

The solution ?? The "middle way". How does one find the "middle way" and prune with both aesthetics and structure and be happy with the results ?

To do this one must eliminate boundaries ... know and act from their own nature and the nature of what they prune and the nature of the world around them. It's a lesson in gardening but a lesson in life.

Their "ego" must merge and become one with the universe.

Good Day ...

    Bookmark   December 24, 2005 at 11:52AM
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Edzard ...

On the more mundane side you don't hire an "aesthetic" pruner versus a "fine" pruner.

The procedure is the same as hiring for any position.

Inquire about education .. experience and tools to handle the project you need completed ( and insurance ). Ask for references and look at some work they completed. Always try to compare the qualifications with the project at hand.

Education .. can vary a bit .. four year horticulture degrees .. two year vocational degree ... art and design degrees with some horticulture training. Twenty years in japan studying under a monk ? Who knows .. but ask what it is so you can compare ...

Certifications .. there are many .. ISA is a good one. Certifications are often not mandatory so it is a good indication of someone that "wants" to learn more and even enjoys what they do for a living.

Experience .. instead of years compare the kinds of projects the person / company has completed. If you want someone to prune very large trees and the only experience they have is pruning Roses ... not a good match ... but they may be the best Rosarians in Canada.

Check out their gear .. and insurance ect. Can they handle the job ?

As important look in their eyes ... do their eyes light up when they see your garden and when they speak about the task involved. Can they communicate this energy to you in a tangible way .. and put it in writing ??

Trust your feelings.

Good Day ...

    Bookmark   December 24, 2005 at 12:29PM
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JerryatTreeZoo(Z10 So Fla)

The ISA is anorganization of businessmen who certify pruners in order to garner more credibility from customers. It works. It is Illegal for anyone in Broward County (South Florida) to prune any size tree without proper licensing.

Why not have the ISA have a further distinction of Aestetic Arborist? That way your shingle would read "Edzard, ISA,AA"

By the way, bigger words impress people, fine Arborist sounds boring, but Aesthetic Arborist, wow, I'd pay more for that.

BTW, have you seen Ed Gilman's site on tree care?


    Bookmark   December 27, 2005 at 1:37AM
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Yes. . . ISA classifies aesthetic pruning as fine pruning. I've been a member of ISA for more than 25 years, and many of my colleagues don't go near fine pruning because they don't trust their aesthetic eye. For 30 years I've done aesthetic pruning in Japanese Gardens and for those that have that special tree or specimen. In fact, all I do is aesthetic pruning and precision hedge trimming. My colleagues funnel that kind of work my way and as a way of earning kudos from their clients for helping solve pruning problems out of their area of expertise. Good for me, them, and their clients.
When you Design, build and maintain Japanese gardens, the comprehensive pruning and detailing is just part of the business.

    Bookmark   August 21, 2013 at 6:43PM
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