How to Prune Trees to Keep Them Healthy and Looking Tidy
When picking up a pruning saw and eyeing up a tree in need of trimming, a host of questions may begin running through your mind. Cut this branch? What about that one? Is this the right time to prune? What if I remove too many branches? Having the answers to all your questions will give you the confidence to add longevity to your trees and beauty to your landscape through smart pruning. Proper pruning technique is part art and part science. Once you know some of the science behind it, you can trust your eye for the artistic elements of pruning. Then, take a deep breath and start making your cuts.
Tree Trimming Safety
Approach every pruning situation by assessing the need for a professional arborist. Leave these tasks to the professionals who have both the equipment and advanced training for tricky pruning jobs.
- Trimming needed on trees near power lines.
- Removal of large dead or dangling branches.
- Large branches near homes or buildings.
When to Prune Trees
Late fall, after trees have shed their leaves, and early winter are the best times to prune deciduous trees (most evergreen trees should be lightly pruned in late winter). The bare branches allow you to see the tree structure clearly. Avoid major pruning during "maple sugar time" (January through early March in most areas). Beetles that attack oak trees are active from late spring through midsummer. If oak wilt is present in your region, don't prune your oaks during this period.
Prune away dead or diseased branches whenever you notice them. Waiting until fall or winter to prune these branches could cause further tree damage or infection in the case of diseased branches. (When pruning diseased branches, dip the pruning blade in a 10 percent bleach solution between each cut to avoid spreading disease.)
How to Cut Large Branches
Larger branches are best removed in three steps:
- Make a shallow cut on the underside of the branch, about 4-5 inches from the trunk.
- Cut the branch off about 2-3 inches from the initial cut. When the weight of the unsupported branch causes it to fall, the initial cut keeps the bark from peeling down the side of the trunk.
- Make the final cut, removing the remaining stub. Make this cut just outside the branch collar: the slightly swollen area where the branch and trunk are joined together.
Tips for Pruning Challenges
Natural growth patterns, storm damage, and specific landscape needs can result in unique pruning challenges. Here are the most common situations you may encounter, and how best to handle them.