Tips and Tricks for Pruning Your Trees

posted on Monday, March 18, 2019 in How To

How to Prune Trees

Once spring hits, mowing isn’t the only thing you need to worry about. Sure, you have to start a schedule of regular lawn maintenance. But you can’t forget about the trees, bushes, hedges, and other plants on your property. They need care too.

While the hedges, bushes, gardens, and flowers likely fill your to-do list as you rebuild your beautiful landscaping after winter, trees are often overlooked. Once planted, most people just let them grow and forget about one very important task: pruning.

Why It’s Important to Prune

It’s counterintuitive, but cutting branches and stems off a tree actually improves its health. The damage of pruning is only temporary. Done right, the tree quickly seals its wounds. The tree also seals itself on the inside, forming a chemical boundary where the branch once was to limit any potential decay from getting from the wound to other parts of the tree. Overall, the tree’s health improves by:

  • Stopping insects, disease, or decaying organisms from entering dead or damaged branches.
  • Providing more sunlight and air to a thinner tree canopy, which staves of disease.
  • Ridding the tree of weak wood, suckers, and water sprouts that siphon critical food and water from healthier parts of the tree.
  • Preventing damage from branches growing and rubbing together.
  • Saving the tree from tearing and breaking apart when the trunk splits or two or more dominant branches forrm.

The Best Tree Pruning Tools

Pruning is delicate work. Not just any sharp object will do. You want as clean of a cut as possible — no crushing, no jagged edges — to promote healing, reduce the risk of infection, and create a better seal. Branches and stems come in all shapes and sizes, so you’ll need a variety of tools to get the job done.

Pruning Shears 

There is a variety of pruning shears out there, and you’ll need different shears for different types of pruning. For live, healthy stems, you need pruning shears that cut cleanly, like a sharp pair of scissors. Bypass hand pruners have two sharp blades that slide overtop each other to cut stems up to ¾ inch.

Bypass pruning shears don’t always work as well on dead, dry stems. They sometimes squeeze and bend the branch or fail to cut all the way through. Anvil and ratchet pruners have one cutting blade that closes down on a flat edge, like a knife on a cutting board. They’re better for clipping off the small, dry stuff.


Loppers are like pruning shears, but larger. They have longer handles to give you more leverage and strength for thicker branches. Again, you want to go with a bypass design for healthy branches and an anvil style for dead ones. Loppers give you more reach and can clip branches up to 1 ½ inch thick.

Pruning Saws

There are a variety of pruning saws that allow you to cut thicker parts of the tree. Traditional bow saws can cut branches up to a foot in diameter, assuming you have easy access to saw from both sides. Folding saws are smaller and handier, allowing you to cut in hard-to-reach pockets. 

Pole Pruners

A pole pruner is basically a saw on a stick. It lets you reach high-up branches without having to maneuver a ladder around your tree. 

Even with the help of a pole pruner, trimming a tall tree from the ground can be tiring. For more efficient pruning with less effort, upgrade to a battery or gas-powered pole pruner. These tools have small chainsaws on the ends so you can make clean cuts without wearing yourself out. 


For some tree trimming jobs, a pruning saw won’t cut it — literally. While some pruning saws can cut through branches up to a foot thick, they’re a better fit for branches in the three-inch range. 

A chainsaw is the best pruning tool for thick branches. It cuts cleanly with minimal effort. Chainsaws have the power to cut through any tree but for your own safety and the health of your trees, stick to small trees. 

Depending on the size and age of your trees, you’ll want a mix of pruning tools. But you’ll probably at least need one in each category. If you’re looking to prune older, larger trees, you should contact an arborist. These tree experts can determine the type of pruning necessary to keep your old trees healthy and have the experience and professional tree trimming equipment to do the job safely. If it’s a task you think you can handle yourself, you take the time to learn how to do it right.

How to Prune Your Trees

Once you have all the tools, you need to understand how to use them correctly — and just as importantly, when to use them. Cutting off a branch the wrong way or at the wrong time can do more harm than good. To get started trimming the trees in your yard, follow these steps to prune in a way that preserves the health of your trees. 

1. Find the best time to trim your trees.

Timing is everything. The best time to prune your trees is while they are still dormant, typically in the late winter and early spring. For one, it’s easier. There are no leaves in the way, so you can clearly see every part of the branch and have better access for cuts. 

But more importantly, it’s a good time for the tree. Sap production is lower, so open wounds are less likely to attract pests. It isn’t warm enough yet for most insects to invade and diseases to spread anyway. Pruning at this time also helps your trees heal faster because they’re in growth mode as soon as spring hits.

You want to trim the branches before they start sprouting buds. If you miss this window, it’s best to wait until the leaves are fully developed. Of course, there are exceptions to these rules. If you have spring-blooming trees, prune them immediately after they bloom. And any time a branch or stem suffers from damage or disease, or dies off entirely, you should prune it right away, no matter the time of year.

2. Prune with a plan.

Before making any cuts, take time to size up your tree. Because if you lop off too much, it can do more harm than good. Take stock of any dead, diseased, and damaged limbs and start with those first. Any work to thin the canopy, prevent branches from rubbing, or remove low-hanging branches should be secondary. 

For better growth and a nice, full canopy, you actually want to ignore the advice on the best time to prune a tree and wait for buds to appear. The buds at the very end of a branch are known as terminal buds. If those are damaged or slow-growing, they send hormones to the tree that slows the growth of the remaining buds on the branch. Cut any terminal buds that are hindering the rest of the leaves from developing to get a healthier, fuller branch.

3. Make the correct cuts.

The proper cutting techniques are just as important as the proper pruning tools. Leave a branch too long or cut it flush with the trunk and you prevent it from healing. As you prune the tree, remember these tips:

  • Cut as close to the trunk or connecting branch as possible without making a flush cut.
  • Cut cleanly with smooth motions, especially with saws. Jagged edges are unsightly and don’t seal as well.
  • Cut large, heavy branches three times to reduce the weight load and avoid tearing the branch collar at the base of the trunk. The branch collar holds the chemicals that help seal off wounds.
  • Cut bigger branches from the bottom first, about a third of the way through. Then saw the rest from the top so the branch falls to the ground easily.

The health of your trees is just as important as the health of your lawn. If you’ve ignored your pruning responsibilities in the past, take a fresh look at your trees. With a few strategic cuts, you can have full, green canopies to round out your beautiful landscape.

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