How to cut limbs off a tree

Tree Trimming: How To Trim Large Branches


Home 4 Seasons Tree Trimming: How To Trim Large Branches

Before you prune a large tree, remember, not just any cut will do. (rik_de_groot/Getty Images)

If you’re trimming trees with heavy tree limbs, you have to be extra careful not to damage the bark or interfere with the tree’s natural healing response.

Doing it right is actually no more difficult than doing it wrong, particularly if you think ahead to how much work it would take to remove a dead tree!

Here’s how to cut large tree limbs in your yard in three simple steps.

Improper cutting can lead to improper healing for a tree. (kookyguy/Getty Images Signature)

How Trees Heal

The truth is, trees don’t actually heal as we do. When you cut off a tree branch, the tree forms a special callous tissue (like a scar) that covers the wound to keep out disease and decay.

That scarred part of the tree will be there forever, sealed off so that the rest of the tree can keep growing. It’s very important to prune trees correctly so that we don’t interfere with this process – incorrect pruning will leave the tree weak and vulnerable to disease.

In the top photo, you can see the evidence of several large pruning cuts. The bumps show well-healed pruning scars, most of them completely covered over.

A “donut” shaped scar is normal, too. The callous tissue grows from the outside edges toward the center, so it’s still in the process of sealing over.

These guidelines show how to properly prune your tree. (Paul Hein/Getty Images)

How to Cut a Tree Limb

When trimming trees, you need to prune the limbs first. Proper pruning of large tree limbs involves three cuts:

  • Cut #1, Notch Cut: Cut a small notch in the bottom of the limb, 2-3 feet away from the trunk, and about a quarter of the way through. This notch will keep the bark from splitting when you make the next cut.
  • Cut #2, Relief Cut: Just outside the notch, make a relief cut completely through the branch. This removes the weight of the branch so that you can make your final cut without the branch splitting and falling.
  • Cut #3, Final Cut: This is the one that matters! Your final cut should be right where the branch collar (that swollen bump) transitions to smooth branch bark. Follow the slant of the branch collar. If you can’t fit your saw into the crotch at the right angle, then cut it from the bottom up.

Be careful to not harm the trees natural healing response. (Robin Zeigler/Getty Images)

Common Tree Trimming Mistakes

Cutting the Branch Too Short: We used to think that branches should be cut off flush with the trunk – boy, were we ever wrong! The branch collar is responsible for forming the scar tissue. If you cut into the branch collar, the tree will have a very hard time recovering. When you see rotten holes in tree trunks or seeping wounds, you’re looking at the aftermath of cutting off the branch collar.

Leaving the Branch Too Long: The branch collar on the trunk can only do its job of allowing the wound to heal if all of the branches that it has to cover over have been removed while leaving the branch collar itself intact. In the photo on the right, you can see how the branch stubs that were left too long are interfering with and actually preventing the healing process from taking place.

Failure to Make the Relief Cuts: Before tree trimming, if you fail to make the relief cuts and remove most of the weight of the limb, you run the risk of having the branch split off. This can cause substantial damage to the trunk, as seen in the photo at right. This can make the wound on the trunk susceptible to disease and insect infestation and take much longer to heal.

Further Reading

  • Trimming Limbs
  • Treating Cut Tree Limbs With Wound Paint
  • When To Trim Trees and Shrubs

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Backed by his 40-year remodeling career, Danny served as the home improvement expert for CBS’s The Early Show and The Weather Channel for more than a decade. His extensive hands-on experience and understanding of the industry make him the go-to source for all things having to do with the home – from advice on simple repairs, to complete remodels, to helping homeowners prepare their homes for extreme weather and seasons.

How To Trim Tree Branches Yourself (A Step-By-Step Pruning Guide)

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Pruning trees helps to keep them healthy, shapely, safe, and growing their best. Don’t worry, it’s not that hard. In this post, I am going to show you exactly when and how to trim tree branches yourself, step-by-step.

Trimming trees is always a scary topic for newbies (I know it was for me!). In most cases you can easily do it yourself, without worrying about hiring an expensive professional.


There are some proper techniques you need to follow in order to avoid damaging your tree. But I am going to make this easy for you, and walk you through everything you need to know about how to trim a tree yourself, step-by-step.

Table of Contents

Pruning Trees Yourself

Before you get out your tools, it’s a good idea to do a quick online search to look up how to prune the specific type of tree you have to make sure there aren’t any special techniques for it.

Some types (like fruit or flowering trees) prefer to be pruned after they are done blooming, or at other times of the year. Also, most types of evergreens don’t need to be trimmed, except to remove dead or undesirable growth.

Planning to trim my tree in the front yard

Why Prune Trees?

There are several reasons to prune trees, and it’s a good idea to make it a regular habit in order to keep them growing their best.

The first time most people think about trimming trees is usually after a storm causes damage, when the lower branches are getting in the way, or when they are posing a hazard of some kind.

Other reasons could be to encourage flowers and fruit production, to trigger new growth, to help prevent disease by allowing better airflow, or simply to shape the tree to make it look nicer.

Pruning tree branches makes mowing easier

When To Prune Trees

The ideal time of year to prune trees is during dormancy. So, in general, the best time would be sometime during the winter.

Removing branches during dormancy lowers the risk of disease and pest infestations in the open cut wounds. Pruning before spring also helps to promote healthy and vigorous new growth.

In harsh climates like mine here in Minnesota, it’s best to wait until the coldest winter weather has passed.

So for us, the best time is during the late winter or early spring. In milder climates, you can trim a tree anytime during the winter while it is dormant.

Don’t worry, you can still cut off dead or damaged branches at any time of the year. Just try to avoid doing it on wet, rainy days, or when it’s super humid outside.

Tree Trimming Tools

When it comes to trimming trees, using quality tools is super important. You should always make sure your tools are sharp and clean before you make any cuts.

Dull tools will only damage your trees, and dirty blades could spread disease to the open wounds. Here are the tools I use…

  • Pole saw attachment for my trimmer
  • Loppers
  • Hand pruners
  • Safety glasses

My tree pruning tools

Proper Tree Pruning Techniques

Improper pruning can lead to disease or pest problems. So before you start, it’s important to understand exactly how to trim a tree.

When branches are removed properly, the wounds will callus over making a nice thick circle all the way around the cut.

It’s important for the callus to form correctly in order to protect the tree from problems down the road, like rot caused by water pooling in the wound.

Healthy callus after correctly trimming a tree branch

Here are tips for how to trim tree branches properly…

1. Locate the branch collar before cutting – Once you decide which limb you’re going to remove, the first thing to do is locate the branch collar.

This is the area where the branch is coming out of the tree. It’s easier to see on some than it is on others – but look for a ridge, a circle, or an area where the bark is thicker.

It’s important to make the cut on the outside of the branch collar, so the wound can heal properly. Also, be sure not to damage the branch collar, or it won’t be able to form a good callus (which can cause rotting later on).

Locate the branch collar before cutting off tree branch

2. Make your cuts at a downward angle – As you trim the tree, it’s important to make your cuts at a downward angle.

This is so that water can’t settle into the wound. If water gets into the wound consistently, it could eventually cause rotting.

Branch collar damaged during improper tree branch removal

3. Never trim branches that are growing upward – When you’re first learning how to trim a tree, a common mistake is to remove the branches that are growing straight up.

But if you prune those, it will leave a wound where water can easily settle, which can cause the tree to rot over time.

Never trim tree branches that are pointing up

4. Don’t prune a branch too long – You should also take care that you’re not leaving too long of a stub when removing the branches.

Leaving too long of a stub will also make it difficult for the tree to form a proper callus around the wound.

Related Post: How To Cut Grass Like A Pro Using Lawn Mowing Patterns & Techniques

Unhealthy callus after improper tree branch removal

How To Trim A Tree Step-By-Step

Now that you know the proper techniques for how to trim a tree, let’s talk about the steps to follow while pruning them.

But a word of caution before getting started. Never, never try pruning your own trees if they are anywhere near power lines. It’s best to just let the pros handle that!

Here’s a quick list of the steps, and then the more detailed steps are below.

  1. Trim off any suckers growing at the base of the trunk
  2. Remove all the dead or dying branches
  3. Prune out unwanted or hazardous branches
  4. Remove any damaged or weak branches
  5. Trim out overlapping branches that rub together

Step 1: Pruning suckers – Suckers are weak, weedy looking growth that forms at the base of the trunk.

These suckers will never become desirable branches, and only steal energy from the tree. So, be sure to get rid of any suckers as you see them forming.

Step 2: Remove dead or dying branches – Cutting off the dead branches is the best place to start, and will make the rest of the steps easier too.

Once you have removed all of the dead branches, it’s easier to see what you’re working with, and spot the ones that need to be pruned next.

Removing tree branches that are dead or damaged

Step 3: Prune out unwanted or hazardous branches – Branches that are hanging low, touching your house, or are causing some kind of a safety hazard can be trimmed next.

Most of the time the goal here is just to raise the height of the canopy, or get rid of an obstruction. This can usually be done by trimming small branches, rather than removing an entire limb.

Step 4: Remove damaged and weak branches – Tree branches that have been damaged in a storm, or are otherwise broken or weakened should be cut off even if they are still alive.

They are an invitation for pests and disease, could become hazardous, and can also be a place where water settles.

Trim tree branches that are hanging down

Step 5: Trim out crossing branches – Now that you’ve got most of the tree cleaned up, it’ll be easy to spot branches that are overlapping and rubbing against each other. When they rub together, they can damage each other over time.

Remove both branches if they are both damaged. Otherwise either cut off the damaged one, or the smallest of the two.

More Tree Trimming Advice & Pruning Tips

  • As you’re just learning how to a trim tree yourself, the best thing to do is to start small, and work your way into it slowly. Don’t overdo it! Start with one or two of the steps above, and then wait until next year for the rest.
  • Be careful when removing large limbs. This can be risky to the health of a tree. It’s best to leave them unless there’s a good reason to get rid of them, like if they are dead, damaged, diseased, or causing some kind of hazard.
  • As you’re pruning, remember to take a step back now and then to look at the tree from all angles, and check the shape. It’s easy to get carried away with cutting branches, only to realize the tree looks lopsided after you step out from underneath it.
  • Never trim off more that 1/4 of the living tree branches at one time. If you need to remove more than that, do some of it this year, and then wait to do the rest over the next few years.


Below I will answer some of the most frequently asked questions about trimming trees. If you can’t find your answer here, then ask it in the comments below.

Can you kill a tree by cutting branches?

Yes, you can kill a tree by over pruning it. It’s best to start small, and only remove a few branches at a time. Then every year, continue working on it until you reach the desired shape.

Also, don’t cut off any large limbs unless they are dead or severely damaged. Cutting off large limbs could end up killing the tree.

Does pruning hurt trees?

If done properly, pruning does not hurt the tree, it’s actually quite beneficial. But, if you’ve never done it before, it’s best to start small, and work your way into it. You don’t want to go overboard, and cut off too many branches.

If you’re nervous that you’ll overdo it, just start by getting rid of any dead or damaged branches this year. Then wait until next year to remove any others that need to be trimmed.

Now that you understand how to trim tree branches yourself, it’s a good idea to get into the habit of doing it on a regular basis. That way, your trees will be healthy, safe, and looking their best!

More Garden Pruning Guides

  • Pruning Plants: The Complete Step-By-Step Guide
  • Pruning Russian Sage: Step-By-Step Instructions
  • How To Prune & Trim Roses: A Step-By-Step Guide

Share your tips for how to trim trees in the comments section below!

7 ways to prune a branch of a tree or bush

Spring is the best time to prune trees and shrubs. In this case, the branches are shortened or cut entirely in different ways. How to understand which technique to resort to in each case?

Measure seven times, cut once - this is the main rule for pruning plants. Before removing any escape, it is important to know why and how to do it. After all, inappropriate and incorrectly performed pruning can lead to the death of the plant.

1. Rejuvenating pruning

If last season you cut your ornamental shrubs incorrectly or forgot to do it, then over time the branches of the plant will become bare and stop flowering. Rejuvenating pruning will help restore the decorative look and strength to the shrub.

All old branches are cut at the base of the bush, and young ones are shortened by a third of the length. This procedure is best done in early spring or summer. At the same time, in subsequent years, the crown also needs to be thinned out.

2. Stump pruning

This technique is a radical rejuvenating pruning. In plants, absolutely all branches are cut off and only a small stump is left.

Stump pruning is used to rejuvenate shrubs that quickly grow new shoots. For example, hazel, willow and white sod can be cut in this way every year. This will make the plants more attractive.

3. Transfer to side branch

This pruning technique helps to change the wrong direction of branch growth. To do this, part of the growth is cut off over a well-located branch. This allows you to form a crown so that the branches do not interfere with each other, and the fruits receive a sufficient amount of light. And this technique also accelerates fruiting and turns growth shoots into fruit shoots.

4. Pruning tops

After heavy pruning, tops often appear - young long shoots that grow vertically. They greatly thicken the central part of the tree crown and slow down the growth of skeletal branches. At the end of winter or at the beginning of summer, all tops must be completely removed (on the ring).

The shoots indicated by the arrow must be cut out

This is what a fruit tree looks like before (left) and after (right) the removal of tops

5. Rejuvenation of fruit branches

fewer fruits. Such shoots should not be left on the tree. Remove them by making a translation to the side branch.

6. Pruning to the outer bud

In order to stimulate the formation of lateral shoots in shrubs and fruit trees, the branch is not cut, but shortened, making a cut above the eye, which "looks" outside the crown.

The branch is cut to the outer bud

At the same time, 3-5 mm retreat from the bud and the pruner is placed at an angle of about 30 degrees.

If the stump is left too high (more than 5 mm), a pathogenic infection can get inside the plant, and if the stump is cut too low, the bud can dry out.

7. Ring pruning

If a fairly thick branch (withered, damaged, weak or barren) is to be cut completely, use the ring pruning technique. A saw or pruner parallel to the trunk is applied to a thickened influx at the base of the branch (it is called a ring) and the branch is cut or cut. After that, at the cut site, with the help of a sharp disinfected knife, the irregularities and edges of the wound are cleaned, and then this place is treated with any antiseptic and covered with garden pitch.

If you don't know how to prune specific fruit and ornamental plants, take a look at our articles:

  • Pruning trees and shrubs - tips and tricks.
  • How to prune an apple tree in spring - tips for beginner gardeners.
  • How to prune roses in the garden?
  • Secrets of correct autumn pruning of grapes.
  • Pruning ornamental shrubs.

Pruning of disturbing branches of trees and shrubs

Faced with these problems, people begin to prune such interfering branches, often doing so in such a way that after a temporary positive effect, the cut parts begin to grow back very quickly, interfering even more.

How to avoid this? How to prune the interfering branches so as not to return to pruning again, or at least return to it after as long a time as possible?

Let's start by looking at the reasons why incorrect pruning results in rapid regrowth in the same place:

Any lignified part of a tree, in our case a branch, requires nutrition for its development. Nutrition for any living cells is glucose, which is produced by the leaves during photosynthesis. Nutrition can flow into a branch from its end to its base, rather than from its base to its end. Simply put, only the leaves that grow on it "feed" the branch. Those leaves that grow on other branches cannot feed it. When the leaves are shed for the winter, the food stops coming. In this case, the branch exists only due to the sugars accumulated by it. The meaning of the existence of a branch for a tree or shrub is to receive nutrition for the trunk and roots, so part of the sugars from the branch goes to the needs and storage of the whole organism. Therefore, even if there is no inflow of sugars from the leaves to the branch, the outflow of sugars can still occur.

This means that in order to maintain a branch in a living state, it is necessary to have living leaves and sunlight.

How do people usually act if a branch is in the way:

Usually they cut off the peripheral part of the branches.

What's going on?

Cutting off the peripheral part of the branch, we remove young feeding shoots with leaves. From this, the flow of sugars into the branch is sharply reduced, but the outflow still occurs. Due to this deficiency of sugars, starvation begins, and the branch has only one way out: using the remains of accumulated sugars, as soon as possible, grow new shoots from dormant or adventitious buds, on which new leaves will be located.

As you can see, the cost of sugars increases even more.

If the illumination is low, then either shoots are not formed at all, since there are almost no reserves in this case, or they are formed, but they are not enough to support the branch.

Ultimately, often, in addition to the rapid regrowth of the interfering branch, we get a decrease in its immunity, necrosis and decay begin from cuts, and the branch either dies or rots and then breaks.

What is the right way to cut the branches of trees and shrubs that interfere?

To avoid back growth and other problems, it is advisable to cut the branches to the ground. The sooner this is done, the less likely there will be serious cut rot. The cut is made without affecting the base of the branch - this is a line outward from the bark seam in the fork to the basal thickening from the bottom of the branch (sometimes they say, "cut into a ring", because the cut often turns out to be round, not oval, since the branch is in the cut often has a cylindrical rather than a conical section).

If it is undesirable to cut the entire branch, for example, if there are few branches on the tree as a whole, then a reduction cut can be made (sometimes they also say "transfer the branch to a thinner one"). With this method, the cut starts outward from the bark seam and is made approximately parallel to the axis of the remaining secondary branch (or you can calculate the cut angle as the bisector of the angle between the perpendicular to the axis of the cut branch and the line passing through the bark seam, when viewed in profile). It should be borne in mind that such sections can rot severely if their thickness is more than 10 cm.

When cutting branches, it should be borne in mind that as the branches grow, they fall lower, therefore, for example, if the wires are located above the branch, then such a branch can be left, but if the wires are below the branch, then it is better to cut it off. In linden, for example, the lower branches tend to drop almost vertically down with age, so more branches should be removed when pruning. If you need to clear the passage for pedestrians, then you can cut the branches not 2.5 meters from the ground, but 3 meters or more, according to the size of the tree.

What is the prevention of disturbing branches?

Prevention of the appearance of interfering branches is the correct placement of seedlings during planting and the selection of species and varieties that are suitable for the habitus of the planting site.

The distance from the walls of buildings and wires is best kept equal to or greater than the maximum height or maximum span of the crown of the seedling after it reaches maturity. This data is usually found in the catalogs provided by the manufacturers of planting material.

The height of the trunk (free from the branches of the lower part of the trunk) for planting along sidewalks and paths must be equal to or greater than 2.5 m, it is better to leave the same distance to the edge of the sidewalk. A good norm for the passage of vehicles is the height of the trunk on the side of the passage of 6 meters or more, the same distance will be optimal from the edge of the carriageway.

I would especially like to note that sloping tree trunks that hang over driveways near any buildings, especially residential buildings, schools, kindergartens, should be removed first. If this is not done, then in emergency situations, the vehicles of the Ministry of Emergency Situations - fire and other equipment - will not be able to get to such buildings. The height of the fire truck is much higher than the height of ordinary cars.

Standards for the location of trees and shrubs from buildings and various communications are specified, for example, in SNIPs and the Rules for the Creation, Maintenance and Protection of Green Plantations and Natural Communities of the City of Moscow. These guidelines show the minimum allowable distances. In real design work, it is better to increase these standards, guided by common sense and the information presented in this article.

Remember that trees with unprofessional care and ill-conceived planting can pose a serious danger to life and infrastructure! Consult with experts! Call us!

You can get rid of interfering branches and do all the work according to the standards with the help of NOBILI. To order tree pruning, please contact us by phone during business hours.

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