I can't tell you how satisfying it was to prune these Toyons! It took the better part of the day, but I'm enjoying the graceful shape and the new-found openness from the street to the house. It was quite dense before, with a ring of juniper bushes surrounding them. I'd love to plant Pacific Coast Irises at their base for spring-time color- as long as the client and the local deer wouldn't mind!
I don't have a "before" photo from the same angle, but you can see how dense and impenetrable it was. Hopefully some of the interior branches will be able to sprout and fill in at the top now that they'll be enjoying the sunshine. I love making plants happier!
My method of pruning is a tidge free-form, but it begins with an assessment of the tree. Are there dead branches? Is the main structure of the tree straight or curving? Like that old Sesame Street segment: Which of these things is not like the others? With something as full as the Toyons, I'll remove dead branches and twigs just to be able so see what I'm doing. Otherwise, it can get overwhelming real fast. Once the general form is apparent, I start pruning at the base and work my way up, making sure I visually follow where the branch goes before I remove it. It might not look right at the trunk, but it could make a giant hole in the canopy, too. If I can't decide whether or not to cut something off, I move on to something more obvious. The decision will typically make itself clear when more material is removed. It's also important to stop, step back and view the tree from all angles while working. I get so focused on the details, I often forget about the big picture.
Of course, this method is always prefaced with research about the particular plant- does it respond well to pruning? Will it form buds at the base of the branches pruned? When is the best time of year to do it? How carried away can I get with my pruning saw?
It takes a bit of planning, but pruning can be an addicting endeavor. I love nothing more than ignoring the fact that I'm a petite little lady and hefting a newly sawn branch over my shoulder. My advice for this lovely Sunday afternoon- embrace you inner lumberjack, sharpen those Felcos, and get out there!