How to Trim and Prune Trees Like a Professional

Pruning and trimming trees like the tree-trimming professionals is a matter of knowing when as much as knowing how and why. The reasons for tree pruning include:

  • To remove dead or dying branches that are diseased, infested with insects, or damaged
  • To remove branches that are hitting or damaging one another or impede growth
  • To remove the stubs of branches that have been broken off
  • To remove excess foliage and promote flowering and fruit development
  • To maintain proper density in a hedge by forcing the shrub to grow dense instead of wide
  • To shape an ornamental tree or shrub into a desired form
  • To remove unwanted branches and other structures that detract from the tree’s appearance
  • To remove overhanging branches and branches that interfere with access to the home or that interfere with street lights, overhead wires, and traffic signals, as a safety precaution

When to Prune
The best time to begin pruning is at planting, but at first only prune to remove dead or diseased branches. During the next dormant season after planting, prune young trees to shape them (but don’t cut back the leader).
Prune trees as they grow to shape their growth and promote the desired function. The best time of year to prune is during the dormant season or in the summer after the spring growth is complete. There are also specific guidelines that vary by species.

  • Avoid pruning oak trees between April and October. This helps avoid oak wilt.
  • For trees with free-flowing sap—such as maples, walnuts, and birch—the best time to prune is in late spring or summer after the leaves are fully grown in for the year.
  • For most other trees, the best time for pruning is in late winter and early spring, while the tree is fully dormant and before the spring growth begins.

How to Prune
Proper tree-trimming avoids “topping” trees. To remove large branches, make several cuts (three or four) to avoid tearing the bark. Avoid leaving a stub, and don’t remove the branch collar (the circle of tissue where the branch joins the trunk). It’s not usually necessary to dress the wounds unless spread of insects are a concern, in which case use latex rather than oil-based paint.
Trees are tough forms of life and thrive when pruned properly. If you want to do it yourself, it’s important to learn how. Don’t hesitate to call in the professionals on occasion to assess the tree’s needs.