Solid landscaping starts with trees.

These massive plants create a shaded canopy of lush plants. Unfortunately, many gardeners fail to care for their trees.

Pruning can improve the vitality of the trees on your property. It can enhance the overall aesthetics and safety of your trees.

Read along to learn all about the importance of pruning. Then, discover how to perform this simple task on your own.

What is Pruning?

Pruning is the process of trimming or cutting away, branches to foster healthier, more productive, and safer trees.

Pruning is often used to remove dead, diseased, or damaged tree limbs. In rare cases, it is also done to shape or redirect trees.

Trained horticulturalists are very selective when it comes to removing tree branches.

Why Should You Prune Trees?

Tree pruning is geared toward improving the health of a whole tree. When done correctly, it can produce grand results, including vibrant foliage, abundant fruit, and formal aesthetics.

Promote Growth

Pruning fosters productive and healthy tree growth. Most gardeners begin by removing dead, diseased, and damaged branches. These branches are much more likely to harbor pests and diseases. As such, they should always be the first to go.

Crossing branches, which rub up against each other, should also be removed. Downward and inward growing branches should follow.

You may also opt to remove the base layer of branches from young trees on your property. On more mature arbors, competing leaders should be thinned to curb unhealthy competition. Watersprouts and suckers should be eliminated.

Keep in mind that there are two main types of pruning styles. These including thinning cuts and heading cuts.

Thinning cuts are used to reduce the density of a tree canopy. Heading cuts are used indiscriminately round off the tops of trees. While headings cuts are often employed out of necessity, they should be considered a last option.

Maintain the Landscape

Pruning permits gardeners to stimulate and reduce the growth of their trees. By regulating the structure of their trees, gardeners gain full control over the design of their property.

Whether you are aiming to create lush, natural crowns or spherical topiaries, pruning is the only way to take control of your trees.

Pruning is also a great way to improve the health and appearance of plants adjacent to trees. By carefully removing branches, you can boost the availability of sunlight, water, and air.

Improve Appearance

Think of pruning as a haircut for your trees. By trimming off dead ends and evening the edges, you improve the overall aesthetics of your property.

Pruning eliminates common deformities. It gives trees a chance of succeeding in a less than ideal environment.

You can trim a tree to prevent lopsidedness, avoid the spread of disease, limit scarring, or ward off pests.

Prevent Hazards

Damaged tree branches are a major danger. They can damage your home, surrounding structures, vehicles, people, and more.

By removing dead or damaged trees, you eliminate potentially expensive and even life-threatening issues.

When Should You Prune Trees?

While preventive pruning should be done as soon as possible, there are a few key times when you should be cutting back your trees.

Preventive Pruning

Dead, damaged, and diseased tree limbs should be pruned as soon as possible. You can prevent incurring damage to your trees, property, and people.

Post-Bloom Pruning

In some cases, it’s a good idea to prune your tree branches shortly after they bloom. However, we suggest you restrict post-bloom pruning early bloomers, such as fruit trees.

Never wait till fall to do your pruning. In autumn, trees are preparing to enter dormancy. An autumn prune can stimulate untimely growth and throw a tree entirely out of balance.

Pre-Growth Pruning

It’s best to prune your trees in late winter or early spring, just before a tree’s new buds have opened. During this time, trees lack their regular foliage. As such, it is easier to identify diseases and other issues.

Early spring moisture and mild temperatures make it easier for trees to heal. Pruning stimulates new growth. As such, it is best to prune dormant trees that are ready to reemerge.

What are Some Pruning Techniques?

When it comes to pruning, many novices fail to focus on their technique. Careless hacking can leave trees for the worse. Familiarize yourself with basic pruning techniques in the section below.

Canopy Cleaning

Cleaning is the process of removing dead, dying, or diseased branches from a tree. According to the University of Florida, this involves the removal of dead and touching branches that are over 1-inch in diameter.

Cleaning also requires the removal of watersprouts and suckers. It includes the process of shortening branches with ingrown bark.


Thinning is the process of removing branches to improve the aesthetics and vitality of a tree’s crown.

When you increase the spaces between tree branches, you enable air and sunlight to seep into the crevices and access the earth below. You also prevent overcrowding.

In most cases, thinning is done to prevent damage from inclement weather. In rare cases, crowns are thinned to prevent growth deformities.


Raising is the process of removing lower limbs to increase the height of a tree’s canopy.

Homeowners may raise the height of their trees’ canopies to avoid inhibiting vehicle or foot traffic. They may also opt to increase the base height of a tree to prevent damage to buildings and gardens.

Raising may also be implemented to increase the flow of air and sunlight.

In many cases, limbs are removed evenly along the circumference of a tree. In addition to raising the height of the base tree branches, this process creates a groomed aesthetic.


Reduction pruning helps reduces the overall size or density of a tree’s canopy. Reduction pruning is employed when trees grow beyond reasonable restraints.

You may see utility companies performing reduction cuts when trees begin to interfere with power lines. You may have also performed reduction cuts to keep a tree from growing into your home or shed.

Reduction cuts are a great way to preserve a tree and the environment around it.


Though it sounds cruel, pinching is a pruning process that encourages new plant growth.

While pinching is often employed on small plants, it is also used on mature trees. It can facilitate fruit maturity.


Heading is the process of trimming young branches back to their base stems and cutting branches short.

Heading cuts are usually performed to rectify some sort of damage. While they encourage new growth, they are not always the saving grace of a tree.


Some tree species require shearing. Shearing is the process of using hedge shears to create an extremely manured canopy.

This is a common technique used to create topiaries and hedges.

What Are Some Safety Precautions When Pruning Trees?

According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, around 27,000 people incurred injuries from pruning in a single year. However, pruning trees don’t have to be a dangerous activity.

Proper Pruning Techniques

While large pruning jobs should be left for the professionals, most homeowners are capable of pruning small branches on their own. For the best results, only work with sharp cutting tools with suitable cutting capacities.

Always cut branches just above the collars, or the raised areas that connect them to the base branches. You want to avoid cutting into the remaining limb and leaving to much of a stub. Always create clean-finished cuts. By doing so, you will help your trees to heal faster and more adequately.

Plan and mark your cuts ahead of time. Never remove more than 25% of a tree’s branches at one time. A tree uses immense amounts of energy to heal from cuts. If you trim away too many branches, you could kill your tree.

Never attempt to cut large-diameter tree branches or whole trees. Trained professionals use special vehicles, tools, and safety gear to remove large branches. The cost to get a professional to prune trees depends on your zipcode.

Tool Safety

Some of the most common pruning-related injuries are tool-related lacerations. Pruning is performed with sharp shears and trimmers, many of which are powered by gas or electricity.

Always inspect your tools before pruning. Read the manufacturer’s instructions to ensure that you are operating your pruning devices properly.

Dress Appropriately

Always wear protective clothing and equipment when pruning trees. We recommend wearing long pants, a long-sleeved shirt, steel-toed shoes, a hard hat, and safety glasses.

Remember, trees may harbor hazards other than branches. Keep an eye out for bees, hornets, birds, and other animals.

Avoid Hazards

Never attempt to prune branches that are within feet of power lines. These tree limbs are typically the responsibility of your local utility companies. Often, they will trim these branches at no cost to you.

Ensure that your work environment is free of potential hazards. People, animals, and even weather can inhibit your safety.

Always be aware of your position in relation to falling or damaged limbs. When working from heights, follow proper ladder safety protocols.

For more information on portable ladder safety standards, check out this OSHA Quick Card.

How to Prune Young Trees

While pruning is often used to remedy issues on mature trees, it can also be employed to shape young ones. While the rules for pruning
trees vary, most young trees can be pruned in the following manner.

Limit Leaders

Arborists often trim away matching leaders to boost the uniformity of a canopy. If two branches are extending at the same rate, one can be eliminated at its base. This should be done sparingly to prevent excessive scarring or sparse foliage.

Improve Spacing

You can also remove excess or overly crowded branches to improve access to air and light.

Branches that touch each other will deform as they grow. You should never remove more than a third of a canopy during a single pruning.

Eliminate Unsightly Sprouts

Young trees are susceptible to developing sprouts in odd spaces. Watersprouts may shoot up from the lateral branches in a canopy.

Remove them diligently, but remember that they may be the result of a greater issue. Eliminate suckers at the base of the trunk.

Taper the Bottom Layer

Young branches at the base of a tree trunk detract from the overall aesthetic and vitality of a canopy. You can trim these away within their first 2 to 3 years of existence.

How to Prune Established Trees

Ongoing pruning is a great way to improve the vitality and aesthetics of established trees. Below, you will find general suggestions for pruning deep-rooted trees.

Keep in mind that pruning requirements vary depending on the size, age, and species in question.

Make Repairs

Trim away, or clean, diseased, dying, and dead branches on an ongoing basis. These limbs can pose a series of threats to people, animals, and nearby structures. Pruning such as this can be done at any time of the year.

Thin the Canopy

Remove new growth to improve the condition of preexisting branches. Overcrowding can limit access to air and sunlight. Adequate thinning can the density of a tree’s foliage, giving it a healthier, fuller look.

Improve Harvest

Improve your fruit trees by servicing them during the offseason. Like most arbors, fruit trees should only be pruned when they are dormant.

For those of you who are wondering, dormancy takes place when there are no longer leaves on the tree.

Prune established fruit trees by topping vertical branches. This will cause them to bush out and give birth to several buds.

Try to create a harmonious balance of vertical and horizontal branches. Make sure the remaining branches are spaced apart, allowing ample room for low-hanging fruits. Allow ample space for airflow and sunlight.

Be Aware of Your Surroundings

Sometimes we forget that trees are living, growing things. Their branches and roots can expand rapidly. When trees encroach on utility wires, structures, and roadways, it’s time to trim the back.

It’s best to trim the leaders and let smaller branches assume their role. Trees that are encroaching upon living spaces and structures require regular maintenance.

What are the Tools You Need for Pruning?

Pruning Shears

Pruning shears are scissor-like clippers that can be used to eliminate branches that are less than an inch in diameter.


Loppers are large clippers that can be used to cut limbs that are as large as 2 ¼ inches in diameter. They can be used for small tree limbs as well as hedges.

Pole Saws

Pole saws are lengthy cutting devices that enable you to prune tree branches from a distance. They work best on limbs that are less than 2 inches in diameter. Pole saws usually extend several feet above you.

Pruning Saws

Pruning saws are handheld cutting devices that can be used to prune small to medium-sized branches. Pruning saws usually consist of an extended handle and a curved metal blade. They are used on thick tree and bush branches.

Anvil Pruner

Anvil pruners are scissor-like devices that are used to cut small twigs and branches. They consist of two blades that push up against each other to quickly severe dead limbs from trees and bushes.

anvil pruner
Anvil Pruner at the HortiPro Exhibition

Power Trimmers

Power trimmers make it easier to trim branches of all sizes. They use electricity- or gas-powered engines to reduce the physical labor required during the pruning process.


Large tree branches require the use of a chainsaw. Chainsaws are extremely difficult to use, especially when you are standing on a ladder.

We recommend calling in a professional if you are dealing with branches that are thicker than 2 inches in diameter.

Final Thoughts

Pruning can improve the health and look of your trees.

With the right tools and know-how, it can be accomplished with ease.

We hope our article helped quell your deepest pruning anxieties. And inspires you to give your trees the annual pruning they need.

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