How to trim tree branches
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
- 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!
Tree Pruning, How to Prune Tree Branches Correctly – Deep Green Permaculture
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The first step in pruning a tree, before making and cuts to change the shape or size of a tree, is to remove any dead, diseased or broken branches. If removing a branch completely, it’s important to make the cut correctly so as to not cause any further damage to the tree.
Thinner branches around the thickness of your thumb or smaller, that is with a diameter of 20mm (3/4”) or less, can be removed with a sharp pair of secateurs or a two handed pruning lopper. Thicker branches can be carefully cut off with a pruning saw.
When removing branches, DO NOT make the pruning cut flush with the trunk or parent branch as this will damage the branch collar.
At the base of every branch is a distinct bulge where it connects to the trunk of the tree or an older branch, known as the branch collar.
The branch collar is comprised of interlocking layers of cells of the branch and the trunk, and it plays an important role in healing the wound left by the pruning cut, sealing it off to reduce decay and prevent the entry of disease pathogens. A correctly made pruning cut leaves the branch collar intact and undamaged.
On some trees the branch collars are large and clearly defined, making them easy to spot, while in other trees they may be harder to distinguish, but they’re always there, so always make branch removal cuts with the intention of preserving the branch collar.
Removing Branches Using Secateurs or Loppers
Thin branches can be removed with secateurs of loppers in a single cut. Most secateurs are rated for a branch thickness of 20mm (3/4”) and the largest ones made for gardeners with large hands can handle branches up to 25mm (1”) if you have sufficient hand strength to make the cut.
Secateurs are one-handed tools and you can get a bit of extra force squeezing with the second hand, but they have their limits. Loppers are basically larger two-handed versions of secateurs, requiring much less effort and strength to cut thicker branches. They have a branch thickness rating which is related to the length of their handles and any mechanisms which impart mechanical advantage, such as with cantilever or ratcheting loppers.
To make the cut, place the cutting blade side of the secateurs or loppers towards the side of the branch crown when making the cut, this prevents the flat part of the blade crushing the bark and plant tissue.
Removing Branches With a Pruning Saw
When removing large branches with a pruning saw, three cuts are made to prevent tearing off the bark and damaging the tree as the branch comes off.
- Undercut the branch a few inches away from the trunk to prevent bark tearing. Only cut part way through the bottom of the branch.
- Move a short distance away from the first cut, further out on the branch and cut al the way through to remove the entire branch. This will eliminate the weight of the branch, allowing you to make the final pruning cut. If the falling branch tears the bark off the trees as it drops, the bark tear will stop at the first cut.
- Start the third pruning cut on the outside edge of the branch-bark ridge and cut through the branch to the outside edge of the collar swelling on the underside of the branch. Remove only the branch; do not damage the trunk or branch collar.
When removing tree branches, don’t ever cut the branch flush with the trunk or parent limb, be sure to always leave a short stub, to preserve the branch collar so the tree can heal over the wound more easily.
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Angelo Eliades is a presenter, trainer, writer, permaculture consultant, urban permaculture pioneer and food forest specialist. View all posts by Angelo (admin)
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- 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.
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Pruning of disturbing branches of trees and shrubs
Faced with these problems, people begin to cut such disturbing branches, often 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 finding out the reasons why incorrect pruning leads to rapid reverse growth 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 to keep a branch alive, 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, in addition to the rapid regrowth of the interfering branch, we often 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 are in the way?
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 crown span 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.