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Tree pruning is the most common maintenance procedure to grow strong and attractive trees. Although forest trees grow well with only nature’s pruning, landscape trees need more care to maintain their structural integrity and aesthetics. It is important to understand how tree biology works before you begin pruning your trees. Improper pruning techniques can create lasting damage or even cut years off the tree’s life. Follow these tips to learn more about how to properly prune your trees.

When to prune: deciding when to prune your trees will depend on why you prune. Light pruning such as removing dead wood can be done anytime. Remember that every time you prune, it’s an injury. Prune so that the wound you create can close and heal easily.

Winter pruning: pruning during dormancy is the most common practice. It creates a tremendous burst of new growth in the spring and should be used if that is the desired effect. It is suggested to wait until the coldest part of winter has passed. Some trees, such as maple, walnuts, and birches may “bleed” when the sap begins to flow. This does not harm the tree and will stop when the tree leaves out.

tree pruning guide

Keys to good pruning:

  • Prune young trees so pruning wounds are small and growth goes where you want it.

  • Begin your visual inspection at the top of the tree and work downward.

  • Identify the best scaffold limbs before you begin pruning and remove defective parts.

  • Don’t worry about protecting pruning cuts. For aesthetics, you may feel better painting larger wounds with a neutral- color tree paint that it doesn’t prevent or reduce decay.

  • Keep your tools sharp! One-hand shears with curved blades work.

  • Make safety a number one priority. For high branches use a pole pruner.

  • When you prune back to the trunk or a larger limb, leave any swollen area at the branch base. For larger limbs, cut just outside the branch ridge and collar and at a slight down-and-outward angle. Do not leave a protruding stub. This is called topping and leads to decay, sprouting, and dieback.

  • When simply shortening a small branch, make the cut at a lateral bud or another lateral branch. Choose a bud that will produce a branch that will grow in the desired direction (usually outward). The cut should be sharp and clean and made at a slight angle about 1/4 inch beyond the bud.


Often, trees need to be reduced in height and spread for a variety of reasons such as providing utility line clearance or preventing damage to a building. Tree pruning helps remove weak, diseased, or dead limbs and can be accomplished at any time during the year with little effect on the tree. Follow these suggested tips in order for your trees to grow back healthy and beautiful after they’ve been trimmed.