Smart Tips for Pruning Trees

How & When to Prune Trees of All Types

Types of cuts to make when pruning trees. Best time to prune deciduous trees. Proper fruit tree pruning instructions. How to prune maple trees, crepe myrtle, bonsai, palms, weeping cherry trees, holly, and evergreens.


An extreme form of crepe myrtle pruning known as "crepe murder" leads to a bountiful bloom display the following summer.

The best time to prune trees depends on the kind of tree you are growing.  Deciduous trees are easiest to trim in late winter, or early spring, while their stems are still bare.  At this time, you can easily see where branches have died back, broken, or are crossing one another.  The tree's structure is also readily apparent, making it easy to tell where heading or thinning cuts might result in an improved shape.

Summer pruning of deciduous trees, in addition to being more difficult, encourages the growth of unwanted water sprouts.

In stark contrast, the best time for pruning broad leaved evergreens is whenever your pruning saw is handy. These types of evergreen trees only need to be pruned to remove dead or broken wood, a simple operation which may be performed at any time during the growing season.

Needle leaved evergreens, such as arborvitae and junipers, may be trimmed winter through summer depending on the type.


Basic Tree Pruning Cuts

Our professionally pruned oak tree.

When pruning large limbs, make your cuts on an angle and leave a half inch "branch collar" as was done here.

This type of cut allows water to run off and heals better than a flush cut.

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Safety Tip:

It is dangerous to climb a ladder to trim a tree.  Use a long-handled pruning tool instead.

If you still cannot reach the limbs which need to be removed, call a tree service.

There are two kinds of cuts you will be making: heading and thinning.

A thinning cut is the total removal of a stem made by cutting the branch in question back to another branch or the tree's trunk.  This thins the tree's canopy, allowing light and air to penetrate more thoroughly.

Heading cuts are used to head branches back to a node or bud. They stimulate the remaining buds on the stem into growth and promote dense growth.  Heading cuts can also be used to reduce or control a tree's height, or to shape its canopy.  Make them by cutting stems back to a bud growing in the direction you want new growth to go.  Shearing is a form of heading.

Choosing the Right Tool for the Cut

Secateurs


Long Handled Loppers


Hand Pruning Saw



Gas Powered Pruning Saw

Electric and battery-operated pruning saws are also available, but are less powerful than the gas powered saws.

Before you buy an electric pruning saw, read this review.

- Use to prune twigs up to 1/4 inch in diameter.

- Use to cut branches up to 1/2 inch in diameter.

- Useful for cutting branches too thick to be pruned with loppers that are growing close to the ground.  A telescoping saw can be used to cut branches up to 10 feet in the air.

- Used for the same branches a hand saw would cut, but makes the job easier. Telescoping versions make quick work of trimming tall trees.


Tree Pruning Guides

Pruning Weeping Cherry Trees

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Weeping Cherry
from: Nature Hills Nursery, Inc.

The instructions here apply to any type of weeping tree.

Weeping trees come about in two ways. Some are created by grafting a weeping crown onto a trunk.  Others are trees which exhibit this growth habit naturally.

Natural weepers will grow into, and then maintain, a desirable shape on their own.  The crowns of grafted trees tend to form water sprouts which should be cut off while the tree is dormant.

Additionally, you will need to monitor the trunks of young weeping cherries to prevent shoots from growing from them.  Pinch off new growth as you notice it.

As with any other tree, remove any dead or broken wood.  You may, of course, thin the canopy if you feel it is too crowded, but avoid shortening stems.  Flowering cherries are overly responsive to heading and may produce so many new branches as to ruin their form.

A better way to raise the canopy is by removing lower scaffold branches as the tree grows taller.

Weeping cherries are not tolerant of heavy pruning, but they won't mind you pilfering a few flowering stems for indoor arrangements.


Pruning Holly Trees

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Sky Pencil Holly Needs No Pruning!
from: Nature Hills Nursery, Inc.

Winter Red Holly
from: Nature Hills Nursery, Inc.

These slow-growing evergreens look best when trained to a central leader.  Where space permits, the branches of pyramid-shaped hollies, such as Ilex opaca, may be allowed to touch the ground.  To reveal the trunk or raise the canopy to allow for foot traffic, remove the lower limbs.

After their initial training, holly trees may be allowed to grow naturally.  Just head back overly ambitious branches to maintain an attractive shape.

Hollies can also take heavy pruning or be sheared.  In fact, a row of them makes a dense, protective hedge.

When: Any time, but if you wait until the trees are fruiting to clip them, they will provide you with material for indoor arrangements.


Pruning Evergreens
Conifers, Juniper, Arborvitae

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Spruce, Blue

Juniper, Pencil Point

Pine, Scotch

Conifers sometimes produce more than a single leader.  In this instance, it is best to select the strongest and straightest, then remove the others.

Pine, juniper, fir, and spruce trees will not abide heavy pruning.  You must not reduce their size by more than a third in a single growing season.  Also, avoid cutting into bare wood, as most conifers do not form buds below the foliage area.  This applies to the trunk as well, so think carefully before limbing these trees up.  New growth will most likely not sprout from the trunk or any other bare stem.

To get whorl-branching trees (fir, spruce, and pine) to form more closely spaced whorls, pinch back or lightly shear new growth just after it forms.

Random-branching conifers (arborvitae, cedar, cypress, hemlock, juniper, and yew) may be sheared into hedges or topiary.

When: Conifers grow most slowly when they are pruned in late spring or early summer.  Avoid pruning pines during hot, dry weather as this makes them vulnerable to attack by bark beetles.

The following links will take you to pages of more smart tips for pruning trees:



Our Other Pruning Guides

What Need to Know About Pruning Roses

Pruning Rose of Sharon Plants

The How and Why of Pruning Tomatoes

Tips for Pruning Wisteria

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