How to cut small tree branches
DIY - How to Trim Tree Branches Yourself | Davey Blog
Most of us can confidently give our trees the care they need to stay healthy. Water, mulch, fertilize—no problem.
But trimming trees on your own? It can feel like uncharted territory. Large pruning jobs should absolutely be left to a professional, but trimming small branches and trees is perfectly manageable. Yes, you can learn how to prune a small tree all on your own!
If you’re up to the task, keep reading for a step-by-step guide to pruning small branches and small trees.
When DIY Tree Trimming is OK, and When It’s Not
Want to trim a small tree with lightweight branches and a canopy at eye level? Go for it! However, you should not attempt to prune a tree if you have to climb a ladder to reach the branches, if it’s near a power line, or if it has large branches that are too heavy to handle.
How to trim small tree branches yourself
Let’s start with the steps to trimming just one branch, then get into pruning a small tree. To trim a branch:
- Make sure your pruning tool is sharp and clean.
- Get to know the parts of the branch and tree. Quick vocab lesson here: the branch collar is the swelled-up area under the branch that connects the branch and tree. It’s easy to spot on some tree species, not so easy on others. The branch bark ridge is the area between the branch and trunk that’s raised just slightly higher than the branch. If you think of the branch as an arm, the bark ridge is the shoulder and the collar is the underarm.
- Eyeball the spot you’ll cut. The goal is to make a cut slightly beyond the branch collar, far enough to not cut the collar itself but close enough to not leave a stub.
- For a skinny branch, say, less than 1 inch in diameter, find the sweet spot slightly beyond the branch collar, and then cut the branch at a 45-60 degree angle to the bark ridge.
- For a thicker branch, use the three-cut rule: about 10-15 inches up from the branch collar, cut halfway into the bottom of the branch. Next, move a couple inches up past that cut, and cut into the top of the branch, letting it fall. Lastly, make the final cut just past the branch collar.
How to trim a small tree
When you trim a small tree, the process of removing a branch remains the same, but other factors come into play.
- Make a plan for the branches you’ll cut and the ones you’ll keep. If you imagine your tree branches as hands on a clock, you should keep the branches that are growing at a 2 o’clock or 10 o’clock angle from the trunk and trim the branches that are growing at a wonky angle. Also, try to remove branches that are growing across the interior of the tree from one side to the other.
- Plan how much to cut. It’s recommended not to remove more than 25% of a tree’s canopy at one time.
Clean out the clutter. Trim away growth coming from the roots or base of the trunk. Prune out dead branches and twigs. Cut out water sprouts—those are weak, stringy branches that usually grow in clusters and sit perfectly upright on tree branches.
- If you have a younger tree, prune out limbs that are competing with the leader branch. More on that in this post about trimming young trees for good structure.
- Last up, prune branches using the steps above.
How DIY tree trimming can go wrong and kill the tree
One wrong cut won’t immediately kill your tree, but pruning incorrectly or too often can.
If a tree repeatedly loses too much of its canopy at one time, it can become weak or even die from the stress. That’s why you shouldn’t trim more than 25% of a tree’s canopy at one time.
Cutting the branch collar can also be a nasty error. Keeping the branch collar intact helps make sure the wound properly seals after being pruned, but if it’s injured, the wound could get infected by decay fungi that could further spread within the tree.
Lastly, cutting off the top of a tree can be a deadly mistake. Read about why topping is a danger to trees here.
Why you should avoid trying to trim a large tree
You may have noticed the theme here is all about trimming small branches and trees. There’s a reason for that!
Attempting to prune heavy branches or a tall tree is not recommended. Hiking up a ladder with pruning tools in hand can be very dangerous. You could lose your bearings and injure yourself, or worse, the ladder could fall over. The same goes for trimming heavy tree branches. If you don’t have a good handle on them, large branches could fall and injure you, your home or some part of your property. Plus, larger pruning jobs might call for a chainsaw or some other power tool, which would require a huge learning curve and extra precaution.
All that being said, you should never try to trim a tall tree by yourself.
Consult an experienced arborist for help with large tree trimming and pruning.
PRINT OR DOWNLOAD
Sign Up For Free Tree & Landscaping Tips!
Subscribe to the "The Sapling," the Davey Blog's email newsletter, for the latest tips to keep your outdoor space in tip-top shape throughout the year.
Plus, receive a free instant download of our landscape seasonal checklists when you sign up!
Sign Up Now
Get In Touch With Us!
We pride ourselves at Davey Tree on providing prompt, professional and personalized service from certified arborists that live, work and engage in your community. Contact one of our Davey Tree specialists for your residential, commercial, utility, or environmental needs.
How To Trim Tree Branches Yourself (A Step-By-Step Pruning Guide)
As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases. Read full disclosure here.
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
- 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.
- Trim off any suckers growing at the base of the trunk
- Remove all the dead or dying branches
- Prune out unwanted or hazardous branches
- Remove any damaged or weak branches
- 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!
when possible, how to do it right, why prune fruit trees
- Main page
- garden care
- Journal of Horticulture
- When to prune fruit trees
Pruning fruit trees is one of the most important garden maintenance tasks. For its correct implementation, you must adhere to certain rules. It is important, for example, to clearly understand how to prune branches and whether pruning should be done in summer and autumn. The procedure will pay off if it is performed regularly at the most appropriate time. When to prune trees in the garden, how to do it correctly, why do you need pruning of fruit plants?
Why are trees pruned in the garden?
What is the purpose of pruning trees in the garden? This is necessary in order to:
- make harvesting easier;
- create favorable conditions for flowering and fruiting. Pruning promotes the emergence of new young stems and, as a result, an increase in yield;
- allow more sunlight and air to enter the canopy: a small bird should be able to fly through the center of the tree. Improved air movement prevents pests and diseases, and more light contributes to uniform ripening;
- remove dead and diseased branches and stems, thereby rejuvenating trees.
- give the plant the desired shape.
Spring pruning of fruit crops is considered the most expedient and useful for the garden. It is important not to overdo it, because excessive zeal can lead to the fact that the tree will weaken or even die, not to mention a decrease in yield. It should be remembered, for example, that 30-40 leaves of an apple tree provide the conditions for the ripening of just one fruit.
Terms of procedure . Spring pruning will benefit the tree if done at the optimum time. When is the best time to start this procedure? If you start it too early, when temperatures are still low, the fruit crop may suffer from frost. If, however, tighten with pruning before the start of sap flow, then after it is carried out, the places of cuts will “heal” for a long time. The most suitable weather for pruning trees in the garden is clear, slightly frosty, with a temperature not lower than -5 ° C. For central Russia, this is usually the period from mid-March to mid-April.
How to prepare inventory . In addition to meeting the deadlines, there are other important nuances that determine how productive the spring pruning of young and fairly old trees in the garden will be. To carry out the procedure, you must first have the appropriate inventory, which, among other things, must be properly prepared. The tools you plan to use for pruning should be sharpened and sanitized. This is done in order not to cause unnecessary injuries and damage to the trees, as well as not to infect fruit crops. Sharpening the tool will be better if, before performing it, lower the cutting parts for some time in a salt solution (1 tablespoon per 1 glass of water).
Special considerations for pruning young plants . Pruning of young trees should be carried out carefully, avoiding excessive removal of branches and shoots. If the plant is still infertile, it is enough to rid it of diseased, damaged, thickening crown or hindering the growth of skeletal branches of shoots, as well as to shorten annual growths. If you need to remove the shoot completely, it is cut into a ring, leaving no stumps. In order not to damage the bark, when cutting a thick branch, first make a notch from the underside and then saw it off completely with a hacksaw from above. Remove excess branches carefully so as not to damage the kidneys with a cutting tool. When shortening to a kidney, the secateurs are started from the side of the neighboring branch, placing it at an angle of 45 ° in the direction from the base to the top of the shoot. The cutting blade should be 1–2 mm below the base of the kidney, the second blade 1–2 mm higher.
Branches to be removed
Branches to be removed from the fruit tree:
- withered, sick and broken. Shoots affected by pests or diseases are best removed immediately, along with areas where fungi have appeared, such as, for example, a tinder fungus. Old fractures need to be treated. To do this, remove the broken branch by pruning for translation, level the cut surface and “apply a bandage” from garden pitch or other compositions;
- the weakest of the two growing side by side and moving in the same direction. If the branches are the same and there is a need to keep both, they are redirected by breeding in different directions;
- representing the basal branch, as well as shoots growing below the grafting site. The root branch must be removed before the tree becomes multi-stemmed;
- intersecting, rubbing against each other, growing inside the crown;
- which may pose a threat to property and human health.
Methods for pruning fruit trees
Two main methods are used for pruning fruit trees: pruning (shortening) and cutting (removing). When pruning, it should be borne in mind that the stronger the shortening, the more branching will be next year. If the tree tends to branch heavily, it is better to cut the branches entirely. If a short pruning is performed (about a third of the length of the branch), few shoots will appear at the top. With strong pruning (when a third of the branch remains), more powerful shoots will grow, which will diverge in different directions. Increments up to 40 cm long are usually not shortened. But if you want to activate growth, make a fairly strong pruning. Some fruit crops are characterized by low bud awakening. That is, annual growths are long, but branching occurs only in the upper part. In this case, a strong shortening stimulates branching and makes the crown more compact.
Types of pruning
Pruning of fruit trees can be:
- sanitary, when cutting (removal) of branches affected by pests and diseases;
- supporting or regulating, performed to limit the size of the plant (when individual branches are shortened or cut). This procedure allows you to prevent thickening of the crown, maintain the ability of the culture to regularly bear fruit, thin out flowers and ovaries;
- forming. This is, in fact, the creation of decorative forms from trees on dwarf rootstocks using a frame and by repeated pruning;
- anti-aging, which allows you to restore the ability to grow by significantly shortening the branches in areas with the optimal length of annual growth;
- restorative, in the form of rejuvenation of old plants, restoring the ability to bear fruit, reducing the height of a tree, forming a crown or part of it from tops.
Is pruning done in summer and autumn
Beginning gardeners often have questions: Should garden trees be pruned in summer and autumn? Such pruning is quite acceptable, it all depends on the goals pursued. Often, gardeners prune plants during these seasons.
Summer . With the onset of the summer months, the growth of garden trees slows down. The supply of nutrients is used up and the plant begins to restore them through photosynthesis. Part of the generated energy is used to feed the summer growth, part goes into the roots to form a reserve for the next year. The lack of energy reserves at this time of the year can be used, for example, to reduce the size of an oversized tree. That is, if you carried out the main pruning in the spring, then in the summer you can cut the tips of young growths if you need to limit their growth. But spring is more suitable for removing large branches.
Autumn . In order not to harm the trees with autumn pruning, it should be remembered that whenever you cut a branch, for example, apple or pear trees, you leave a wound on the body of the plant. This is not a problem during the growing season, i.e. in the spring: after a few days, the wound will be covered with a layer of protective cells. In autumn, growth slows down and healing may not occur. That. autumn is not the best time for cutting branches on fruit crops, but this is practiced in the southern regions. Autumn pruning, which usually occurs after the end of leaf fall, is shaping, rejuvenating or restorative.
What a gardener will need for work
Pruning should be done in comfortable clothing that does not restrict movement and does not cling to branches. It is also better to wear special shoes with non-slip soles, a hat with a visor, gardening gloves and goggles. To carry out the work, a stepladder or other support may be required. Getting started, you need to make sure that the ladder is level and stable. It is better if you have an assistant when cutting trees at a height.
Thus, pruning garden trees helps not only form the crown of plants, but also stimulate fruiting. To control these processes, it is important to use the right techniques and prune branches at the most appropriate time of the year. It is more convenient to cut fruit crops with modern garden equipment and suitable tools at hand. The GARDENA range offers a wide range of tools for pruning fruit trees in the garden, including secateurs, loppers, pruners, garden saws and more.
Compare ( )
- Ceska republika
- United Kingdom
- New Zealand
- Canada (fr)
- South Africa
All other markets
How to prune fruit trees: tips for beginners
Pruning fruit trees and shrubs is one of the most important annual operations, without which no plant can grow normally, develop and produce full yields.
It is necessary to prune fruit trees in order to properly form their crown, to prevent its thickening, which interferes with the access of light and oxygen to the branches and leads to the emergence of diseases and pests.
Without pruning, the yield of both stone and pome plants drops sharply, the fruits become small and tasteless.
There are different types of pruning, some of them are too difficult for a beginner gardener, and not always necessary. In this article, we will show you how to prune fruit trees with the least amount of effort and using the simplest tool that everyone has.
We have already talked about how to prune fruit trees in our articles: How to care for cherries, How to care for pears, Frost-resistant cherries, How to grow plums.
HOW TO CUT FRUIT TREES AFTER PLANTING
Pruning of young plantings begins at the age of three. It is necessary for a tree to form a crown correctly and quickly. Such a formation has been carried out for several years. And here it is important not to make mistakes, since an incorrectly formed crown will be very difficult to correct in the future.
The main thing is to correctly create the frame of the future tree. As a rule, two types of pruning are used in amateur gardens: sparsely-tiered and non-tiered. The first is the simplest and most accessible for any novice gardener. It is equally good for both stone fruit and pome crops.
In the first two years, fruit trees mainly grow the root system, and the growth of the aerial part is rather small. In the third year, the intensive growth of the tree itself begins, and if you do not start shaping it, then it will turn into a long thick “whip” with weak side branches.
Pruning of young fruit trees starts from the central conductor. It is shortened to a height of 75 cm, leaving up to 10 buds on it, from which new shoots and side branches will form. Thus, the first tier is laid.
The following spring, damaged and weak branches are removed, leaving the 3 strongest. This will be the second tier. In subsequent years, the third, fourth and fifth tiers are formed in the same way.
When the tree reaches a height of four meters, cut the center conductor above the top branch to stop the growth of the tree, otherwise it will be quite difficult to care for it. Your crown has been formed.
HOW TO TRIM Mature FRUIT TREES
Annual pruning of fruit trees promotes the formation of new shoots, increases the number of flower buds, relieves the crown of the tree from thickening, improves the taste of the fruit, increases yield, limits the growth of the tree and facilitates its care.
This operation is carried out in the spring - in late March - early April, before the start of bud break.
Pruning mature plants differs significantly from shaping a young tree. As a rule, it is limited to two operations: shortening and thinning.
Shorten branches to encourage shoots and buds to grow. A cut on annual branches must be made above the bud, and on a long-term one - above one of the branches.
This operation promotes the rapid growth of shoots below the cut. These young shoots will quickly begin to grow fruit twigs.
Thinning is necessary to improve access to sunlight and air circulation inside the canopy. This contributes to the formation of large, even fruits and prevents the appearance of diseases and pests.
During thinning, cut out all branches growing inside the crown or at an acute angle to the trunk. The latter can cause winter breaks in the tree.
Before pruning, all broken, withered and weak branches are removed, and then they begin the main work.
You can prolong the life of old trees with rejuvenating pruning. It is made for trees older than 18 years. The easiest way to rejuvenate is to shorten all branches by 2/3 of the length.
FRUIT TREE PUTTER
For pruning, you will need a short-handled pruner, a long-handled pruner for trimming the tops of the trees and a sickle-shaped garden saw, as well as a garden pitch for covering the wounds on the trees.