How to trim and prune trees to keep them healthy and looking tidy

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By BenjaminBeck

How to trim and prune trees to keep them healthy and looking tidy

Many questions can run through your head when you pick up a pruning tool and start trimming trees. What about this one? How about this one? What is the best time to prune? What happens if I prune too many branches? Knowing the answers to all of your questions will help you feel confident in your ability to increase the longevity of your trees and add beauty to your landscape with thoughtful trim and prune trees.

Pruning trees correctly and using proper techniques for trimming them are both art and science. After you have a basic understanding of the science, your eyes will be able to see the art of pruning. Next, take a deep breathe and begin to make your cuts.

Safety in Tree Trimming

Assessing the need for professional arborists is the best way to approach every situation. These tasks can then be left to professionals who have the expertise and equipment needed for difficult pruning jobs.

  • Tree trimming around power lines
  • Take away large branches or dead trees.
  • Large branches are located near buildings and homes.

When to prune trees

Pruning deciduous trees in the late fall or early winter is a good time. However, most evergreen trees should only be pruned lightly in late winter. The tree structure can be clearly seen by the naked branches. Avoid major pruning in “maple sugar season” (January to March in most places).

Oak tree beetles are active late spring through midsummer. Oak wilt can be found in your area. Don’t prune oaks during this time.

Dead or diseased branches should be removed as soon as you notice them. If you wait until winter or fall to prune these branches, it could lead to more tree damage and infection. To prevent spreading disease, you should dip your pruning blades in 10 percent bleach between each cut.

How to cut large branches

It is best to remove larger branches in three steps.

  • A shallow cut should be made on the branch’s underside, approximately 4-5 inches away from the trunk.
  • The branch should be cut about 2 to 3 inches beyond the original cut. The initial cut prevents the bark from tearing down the trunk’s side if the branch falls due to its weight.
  • Take the final cut and remove any stubs. This is trim and prune trees the area between the trunk and branch that has a slight swelling.

Tips for Tree Pruning Problems

Tree pruning can be challenging due to natural growth patterns, storm damage and landscape requirements. These are some of the most common situations that you might encounter, and how to best handle them.

V-Shape Branching

Some trees form V-shaped junctures naturally. These narrow branches can sometimes cause damage to the overall tree structure. However, not all cases require corrective pruning.

Osage orange, native elms and hornbeams are strong enough, or small enough, to require little pruning for structural purposes.

Other trees, including maples, flowering pear, ashes and willows should be closely monitored and trained early to prevent structural problems as they get larger. V-shaped junctures that are narrow and weak are more susceptible to being broken off by wind or ice storms. You can prevent V-shapes causing problems by removing one stem while the tree is still young.


Some trees have a survival instinct and send new shoots up from the ground. These fast-growing stems can eventually weaken the main tree. Cut suckers at ground level to remove them before they reach 6-12 inches in height.

Avoiding trees that produce suckers is the best way to avoid having to deal with annual suckering. It is a good idea to hire a reputable nursery or landscaper.

Forked Trunks

Forked trunks are less sturdy than single trunks and can often grow together. This creates a hollow cavity that is susceptible to insects and rot. One of the trunks or the tree will split.

You can prevent this by removing one of the forked trunks when the tree is still young. To ensure that rainwater doesn’t get to the stump, cut as close as possible to the ground. Be careful not to damage any bark remaining on the trunk.

Clustered branches

A tree can be quickly weakened if it has too many branches. The development of bigger branches is hindered by weaker branches. The remaining branches will benefit from better sunlight and air circulation if they are removed. This is particularly important for trees that form multiple branches at one point on their trunks, creating weak zones.


A stub is a broken branch or a cut that is too far from the tree’s junction. As soon as you notice them, remove stubs. The stub acts as a barrier to prevent a protective callus closing the wound, and allows insects access. Moisture and rot can quickly take root once insects have made inroads. Be careful not to cut through the callus tissue that has formed near the trunk when removing an old stub. You will need to seal the wound.

Tree Wounds

It doesn’t matter if you apply a seal to pruning cuts or broken branches. It will speed up wound healing if you allow it to breathe. Sometimes, dressings can prevent the formation of callus tissue (the swollen region) and trap moisture that promotes rot.

Arborists use tarlike dressings for very specific purposes. Some insecticidal treatments can be used to prevent beetles visiting oak wilt and spreading it.