This spruce was in place when the current owners moved in one year ago. After one holiday lighting season they have determined that 1) they like the tree with lights and 2) it can't get any bigger or they won't be able to light it. A distant third consideration is the fact that if allowed to grow it will be too large for the yard and may be interfering with overhead utility lines in about 10 years.
A spruce breaks bud (arrow).
We like to finish all reduction pruning
before the plants break bud in spring.
More about why this is.
We told the owners, "If we could have started pruning it last year it would have fit our criteria perfectly -- we would have started cutting as it reached the height of 'Janet plus a ladder,' then we would prune every two years. However, it's still do-able because the tree's in good shape, healthy and with plenty of densely needled branches deep into the plant. So we can cut it back by THREE years' growth now and put you on schedule to re-do this cut every two years in August or late winter."
The owners said "Go for it." So we did. And here's what we did.
(Please note: You will see this top once more and it will be intact. We didn't glue it back together. We actually cut the tip into pieces after we were done with all the pruning and are only showing it to you out of order for purposes of illustration.)
The tree can grow for two years now and reach to just inside that line before we'll cut it again.
More about applying these techniques to other evergreens and looking at more spruce situations, in the Ensemble Weekly Edition, What's Coming Up 132.
We normally work as a team with one pruner, one ground crew and expect to spend just under an hour pruning a tree like this. However, total elapsed time this day was two hours because our ground crew was shooting photos. Total time for one pruner to do the work, from cutting off the tree's top to making the last cut of a side branch: 60 minutes. Total time for that person to then pick up and bundle away the branches, 60 minutes.
One final bit of clean-up: The pruners we used (below) were clean when we began this work. We'll use oil (turpentine works, too) to wipe that sap off the blades, then resharpen them. It takes more effort to open and close sappy blades. Also, they may mangle more than cut the next plant.
About the spruce twig pictured at the beginning of this article. It's breaking bud -- the bud cap's popping off as the growth beneath it swells. Once a plant has broken bud for the season it is not the best time to do the type of pruning we show you here. The plant will respond differently to cuts made when its shoots are actively growing, compared to cuts made while the plant is dormant. If possible, schedule this pruning for after those bud caps form in late summer but before they pop off in spring.
However, we don't live in a perfect world where circmstances always cooperate. So we do sometimes prune to reduce a plant's size during budbreak and shoot elongation.