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Tree Trimming: How To Trim Large Branches

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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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DANNY LIPFORD

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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.

FAQs

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.

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

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 process? 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

Fruit tree branches to be removed:

  • withered, diseased 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 going 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 root 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.

Conclusion

Thus, pruning garden trees helps not only form the crown of plants, but also stimulate fruiting.


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