How to Trim a Tree

The Beginner’s Guide to How to Trim a Tree

October 15, 2020

Tree hugger or tree killer?


That’s the decision that many of us make when we’re figuring out how to trim a tree for the first time. Tree pruning is intimidating. Where do you cut? How often should you prune?


Most of the time, these fears are from a lack of information, so you’re in the right place! We’re here to help you.


Don’t Go Out on a Limb


Before beginning your pruning journey, always consider your safety first. Ensure that you’re ready to prune by taking care of yourself first.


First, assess where you’re going to prune. Is your tree close to any powerlines, are there any large branches that look like they’re about to fall, or will any falling branches fall on roads, houses, people, or streets?


If your trees are doing any of these things, call a professional first to take care of the challenging and dangerous jobs. Then you can take care of the fun parts.


Tools of the Trade


Always use good quality and correctly optimized tools for each job. If your tools are dull, give them a sharpen beforehand as well. You’ll be cutting with long extensions on your tools so that any dullness will become unbearable.


Furthermore, dirty tools can infect your tree and stop it from growing properly in the future. Always give your tools a thorough wash before starting work.


You’ll want to consider picking up the following tools.

  • Safety glasses
  • Good quality gloves
  • An extendable pole for your trimmer or saw
  • Loppers
  • Pruning shears

When to Trim Trees: Every Month Matters


You should only begin pruning in late Fall right before your tree enters into hibernation. Pruning during Fall will lengthen your tree’s life span. Lightening a tree by removing branches reduces the energy needed to survive- giving your tree more than enough energy to survive any winter.


Just be aware that pruning too late or too early (A.K.A. January through early March and late spring through to early summer) can have the opposite effect – damaging your tree beyond repair.


Of course, there is one exception. If you notice that a branch is unwell, prune it immediately with a sanitizing solution to remove any fungus or insects that are infecting it.


How to Trim a Tree: 101


You’ll know when you’ve pruned your branches properly when you notice round calluses forming around the areas that you’ve pruned. Calluses like these are a good sign that the tree could heal itself completely after your pruning. 


Follow these steps for the perfect prune.


1. Find the Collar and Make Your Cut on the Branch Side


The collar is where a branch leaves the tree. Look for a circle near the trunk where the bark is thick.


Pruning at the collar allows your tree to easily form calluses around where it’s been injured. Pruning too far away or too close will make your tree work extra hard to close up the wound that you’ve just created.


So, to answer the question “how much to trim a tree” is “the right amount. Cut close to the trunk and on the branch side of the collar and you’ll be golden.


2. Cut at an Angle That Points Towards the Base of the Trunk


Cutting at a slight angle toward the trunk will protect the wound from staying damp and collecting water.


A new stump needs to stay dry for a healthy healing process.


Similarly, never prune a branch that faces straight upward unless you can cover the stump with a watertight, breathable seal. Upward facing tree limbs are extra susceptible to water accumulation.


Tree Trimming the Right Way


Before we get into this, remember to always think about safety first! If you need help from the pros, don’t hesitate to reach out.


Now that that’s out of the way, here’s everything you should know about the pruning process.


1. Prune the Suckers


Suckers are your tree’s attempt at sending up branches from its roots and base. Unfortunately, your tree will expend so much energy creating any new suckers that they are bad for your tree’s long-term health.


Trim the suckers first; they’re low to the ground and relatively easy to get to, so this shouldn’t be a problem.


2. Remove Dead Branches


Dead branches don’t do anything but look bad, so prune those second.


Once all of the dead branches are gone, it will be much easier to see what needs to happen to the rest of the tree.


3. Remove Dying Branches


If your tree was damaged by a recent storm or by anything else, you should cut off the injured pieces before they rot or become infected.


You can identify these by looking for branches hanging loosely, massive cuts or cracks, or large sections of missing bark. You should also cut down any stumps that have been left by branches that have broken off during storms or the winter.


4. Prune Branches That Pose a Hazard


This step will frequently require the help of an expert tree care crew.


Branches that impede drivers’ vision, overhang onto the walkway, touch powerlines, and drape over roofs will all need to be removed. Branches hanging low, touching your house, or causing safety hazards need to go next.


Work carefully by removing small branches to remove obstructions. Just remember, if you need to remove a large branch in a dangerous area, call the professionals.


5. Trim Overlapping Branches


Your second to the last step should be to take care of any pesky overlapping branches.


Overlapping branches rub together and destroy bark, exposing your tree to infection. Be sure to remove overlapping branches whenever it’s safe and possible to do so.


If the overlapping branches have already damaged one another, remove both of them to minimize your tree’s chance of infection. 


6. Take off Forking Trunks


The very last step is to remove forks in your tree’s trunk. While they do look cool, a division in the trunk of your tree will lead to inevitable failure and potentially massive damage down the road.


Prune one of the forks as soon as possible and make your cut at a slight downward angle and as close to the ground as possible. Pruning the forks in your tree will help the new stump remain clean and dry during the healing process.


Are You Ready to Prune?


We know that we are! We’re ecstatic that you’re as interested in tree care as we are.


Just remember, proceed carefully, and don’t too excited about cutting down your tree. Careful stewardship is the best thing that you can do to care for the nature around you.


Now that you know how to trim a tree, are you curious about the other ways you can care for your trees? Reach out to tree trimming companies like us for more information.