how to prune a tree properly

How to Prune a Tree Properly

Proper Tree Pruning: Techniques and Tips

Pruning trees is an essential activity that homeowners, gardeners, and landscapers must carry out regularly. Pruning enhances the aesthetic appeal of the tree, removes hazardous limbs, and improves tree health. However, it is important to prune trees properly to avoid causing damage that may lead to tree decline, limb failure, and property damage. In this article, we will explore the techniques and tips for proper tree pruning based on AS4373-2007 Pruning of Amenity Trees.

When is the Right Time to Prune a Tree?

Pruning can be done at any time of the year, but it is important to choose the right time to ensure that the tree heals quickly and does not get damaged. In general, pruning should be done during the dormant season, which is the period when the tree is not actively growing. For deciduous trees, the dormant season is in late winter or early spring, before the buds start to swell. For evergreen trees, the dormant season is in mid-summer when growth is slow. Pruning during the active growing season can lead to increased stress on the tree, slower healing, and a higher risk of disease and pest infestation.

Tree Lopping vs. Pruning?

Tree lopping is the practice of removing large sections of a tree, often resulting in a tree that has been severely disfigured. Tree lopping can be dangerous and detrimental to the tree’s health as it creates large wounds that take a long time to heal. Tree lopping can also lead to epicormic growth, which is the emergence of new shoots along the trunk and branches. These shoots are weakly attached and can easily break off, leading to potential hazards. Additionally, tree lopping can ruin the tree’s natural shape, leading to unattractive and unhealthy trees.

Why is Tree Topping a Bad Idea?

Tree topping is the practice of removing the top of a tree, which reduces its size and can create a dangerous condition. Tree topping can lead to epicormic growth, weakened branches, and decay that can lead to tree decline and increased risk of limb failure. Topped trees also have a higher risk of pest infestation and disease because the large wounds created by topping take a long time to heal.

What are Epicormic Stems?

Epicormic stems are the small shoots that emerge from the trunk or branches of a tree in response to stress, injury, or pruning. They are usually small and weakly attached, making them susceptible to breaking off easily. Epicormic growth is common in trees that have been improperly pruned, topped, or lopped. When pruning, it is important to remove these epicormic stems to reduce the risk of limb failure and improve the tree’s health.

How Poor Pruning Leads to Limb Failure

Bad pruning can lead to limb failure by creating large wounds that take a long time to heal. Trees respond to pruning by forming callus tissue around the cut, which eventually closes the wound. If the cut is too large, it can take years for the tree to heal, leaving it vulnerable to pests, diseases, and decay. Improper pruning can also remove too much of the tree’s canopy, reducing its ability to produce energy through photosynthesis. This can lead to a weakened tree that is more prone to limb failure.

How to Shape a Tree Properly

Shaping a tree properly involves pruning it in a way that maintains its natural form while enhancing its aesthetic appeal. Before pruning, it is important to determine the tree’s growth habit, architecture, and preferred shape. Trees can be pruned to maintain their shape or to create a new shape. When shaping a tree, it is important to remove dead, diseased, and damaged branches, thin out crowded areas, and remove branches that cross or rub against each other. It is also important to maintain the balance of the tree by removing larger branches from the bottom of the tree and smaller branches from the top. When pruning, it is recommended to use the 3-cut technique, which involves making two cuts on the underside of the branch, a few inches apart, and then a third cut on the top side, a few inches from the previous cut. This technique prevents the bark from tearing and damaging the tree, leading to faster healing and reduced risk of infection.

How to Prune Old Trees

Old trees require special attention when pruning, as they may have weakened structures, increased decay, and a higher risk of limb failure. When pruning old trees, it is important to focus on maintaining their health and safety rather than shaping or enhancing their aesthetic appeal. Pruning should focus on removing dead, diseased, and damaged branches, thinning out crowded areas, and reducing the size of overgrown branches that may lead to limb failure. It is important to avoid removing more than 25% of the tree’s canopy in a single year, as this can lead to excessive stress and weaken the tree.

What Equipment to Use to Cut Branches

Pruning trees requires the use of proper equipment to ensure safe and effective cuts. The most commonly used equipment for pruning trees includes hand pruners, loppers, pruning saws, and pole saws. Hand pruners are used for cutting small branches up to 1 inch in diameter, while loppers are used for branches up to 2 inches in diameter. Pruning saws are used for larger branches, and pole saws are used for branches that are out of reach. It is important to ensure that the equipment is sharp, clean, and well-maintained to ensure efficient cuts and reduced risk of injury.

When to Do It Yourself and When to Use an Arborist

Pruning trees can be a DIY activity for homeowners and gardeners, but it is important to know when to call in a professional arborist. If the tree is too large or difficult to reach, or if the pruning requires the use of heavy equipment, it is recommended to hire an arborist. Additionally, if the tree is near power lines, buildings, or other structures, it is important to hire an arborist to avoid potential hazards. Arborists have the expertise, training, and equipment to prune trees safely and effectively, ensuring the tree’s health and safety.

How Tree Pruning Can Be Dangerous

Tree pruning can be a dangerous activity if not done properly. It involves working at heights, using sharp tools, and dealing with heavy branches. Common risks associated with tree pruning include falling from heights, cuts and abrasions, and being struck by falling branches. To reduce the risk of injury, it is important to use proper safety equipment such as hard hats, eye and ear protection, and sturdy boots. Additionally, it is important to ensure that the equipment is well-maintained and used properly, and to have someone present to assist if necessary.

Tips on the Finished Cut After Removing a Branch

After removing a branch, it is important to ensure that the cut is made properly to reduce the risk of damage and promote faster healing. The finished cut should be clean, smooth, and made just outside the branch collar, which is the slightly raised area where the branch attaches to the trunk or branch. It is important to avoid cutting too close to the trunk or branch, as this can damage the bark and lead to decay. Additionally, it is important to avoid leaving stubs or making flush cuts, as this can lead to slow healing and increased risk of infection.

What is Uplifting?

Uplifting is a pruning technique that involves removing the lower branches of a tree to provide clearance for people, vehicles, and buildings. Uplifting is often done to improve the tree’s aesthetic appeal, create a better view, or provide more light to the surrounding area. When uplifting a tree, it is important to avoid removing too many branches at once, as this can weaken the tree and increase the risk of limb failure. It is also important to avoid removing branches that are necessary for the tree’s stability or that provide wildlife habitat.

How to Shape a Tree According to its Type and Preferred Architecture

Different tree types have different growth habits and architecture, and it is important to shape them accordingly to maintain their natural beauty and health. For example, conifers have a natural pyramidal shape and should be pruned to maintain this shape while removing dead, diseased, and damaged branches. Deciduous trees have a more open and spreading shape and should be pruned to maintain a balanced structure while removing branches that cross or rub against each other. Additionally, fruit trees should be pruned to promote fruit production by removing competing branches and creating an open canopy that allows for sunlight penetration.

Interesting Facts about Trees
  1. Trees can absorb carbon dioxide and other pollutants, improving air quality and reducing the effects of climate change.
  2. The tallest tree in the world is a coast redwood named Hyperion, which stands at 379 feet tall.
  3. Trees communicate with each other through underground networks of fungi, sharing nutrients and warning each other of pests and diseases.
  4. Trees can live for hundreds, even thousands, of years, with some of the oldest trees in the world dating back to over 5,000 years old.
  5. The world’s largest tree by volume is a giant sequoia named General Sherman, which has a volume of over 52,000 cubic feet.
Links for Further Reading
  1. Tree Care Industry Association –
  2. International Society of Arboriculture –
  3. Trees Are Good –
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