How to Properly Trim a Tree


When properly trimmed, trees add value to your home and provide valuable shade. They also improve the health of your landscape.

Proper pruning helps a tree grow healthy, strong limbs and branches. It can also ward off disease and pests.

Identifying Branches to Trim

To properly prune a tree, you need to identify the branches that need pruning. These limbs should be removed in manageable sections, usually about a foot at a time.

If a branch is too large for you to handle, it’s probably best to have the job done by a professional. This way, the whole tree will be healthier and more resilient to storms.

There are two basic types of cuts you’ll make when pruning a tree: heading cuts and thinning cuts. Heading cuts reduce the height of a tree by cutting back lateral branches and stimulating the growth of terminal buds, which are closest to the cut.

When making heading cuts to young branches, be sure to cut at a 45-to-60-degree angle to the branch bark ridge. This will ensure that the bud is not killed by the cut and will help it grow.

Likewise, be careful not to cut branches flush with the trunk of the tree or larger branch. This will not allow the plant to seal the wound and will leave an open entry for disease pathogens or pests.

Making the Cuts

Make sure you’re pruning properly, with a purpose and with the knowledge of tree anatomy. One wrong cut won’t kill a tree, but it can damage it in ways that you might not expect.

You want to cut only beyond the branch collar, which grows from stem tissue around the base of the branch. The collar also contains vascular tissue from the trunk.

Eyeball the spot you’ll be cutting, aiming to make it slightly beyond the collar but not too far away so that you don’t leave a stub. When you’re finished, your cut will be at a 45- to 60-degree angle to the bark ridge of the branch.

Properly pruned branches form a callus on the bark, which prevents water and nutrients from leaching out into the soil. The callus protects the tree’s trunk and reduces the risk of damage from insects, diseases and other pests.

Removing Dead or Dying Branches

Removing dead or dying branches before they become an access point for insects, pests and diseases is a very important part of pruning. It also helps to promote new growth in spring and prevents the spread of disease from one section of a tree to another.

Removing crossing or rubbing branches is another important step. These limbs chafe against each other and cause an easy access point for insects and disease.

Pruning for health is about removing all dead, diseased, and weak branches, crossing or rubbing limbs, and removing branch stubs so that the entire tree continues to grow in a healthy way.

When branches are removed properly, the wounds form a callus over making a nice thick circle around the cut. The callus protects the tree from future problems like rot caused by water pooling in the open wounds.

Removing Crossing Branches

Removing crossing branches is an important part of pruning a tree. These branches often grow across the center of a canopy and rub against one another, causing bark wounds that could lead to disease and other problems.

Crossing branches should be removed by cutting them back to their point origin at the trunk or a lower branch. Make the cut a few inches beyond the bark collar at the base of the branch and cut downward at a 30 deg angle.

Double leaders (those that have two main growing stems attached at a very narrow crotch) and water sprouts and root suckers should also be removed. These types of deformed branches can impede proper growth and health and cause trees to become topped, a condition that has serious negative consequences for tree life spans, safety, and maintenance requirements.

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