How to Trim Trees in the Fall


Some trees require yearly pruning to keep them healthy and attractive, while others respond to trimming by producing more fruit the following season. Sometimes you may want to trim a tree to make sure its branches don't impede access under or around them and sometimes you might need to trim diseased or broken branches. For whatever reason you trim a tree, late fall is one of the best times to undertake a tree trimming project.

Step 1

Evaluate the size of your tree-trimming job based on the size of the tree you want to trim. If you have experience pruning large trees and using power tools such as chain saws, you might choose to do the job yourself. However, if you are inexperienced or if your tree is very large, you might be wise to hire a professional tree service. Tree advises, "Hire a professional for jobs you can't handle---it's really not worth getting seriously hurt, or damaging expensive property, just to save money."

Step 2

Wait for deciduous trees to fully lose their leaves in fall---trimming trees during their dormant season is the best time to perform this "surgery." Then start your pruning activity by cutting off branches that are misshapen or that appeared dead before the tree lost its leaves.

Step 3

Cut off branches that bump into each other. The University of Minnesota Extension advises people who are interested in trimming their trees to "remove branches and branch stubs that rub together." Every time you trim off a branch, cut close to the tree's trunk, but don't cut into the trunk. According to The University of Minnesota Extension, leave the branch's "collar," which is a bulbous or raised area where the branch connects to the trunk. They add, "The branch collar grows from the stem tissue around the base of the branch. Make pruning cuts so that only branch tissue (wood on the branch side of the collar) is removed. Be careful to prune just beyond the branch collar, but DON'T leave a stub. If the branch collar is left intact after pruning, the wound will seal more effectively and stem tissue probably will not decay."

Step 4

Trim large branches by making one cut half way through the branch from the bottom and a second cut that meets the first cut from the top of the branch. Using this method, the cuts will allow the branch to fall off cleanly and will avoid injuring the trunk. The University of Minnesota explains further: "Three or four cuts will be necessary to avoid tearing the bark. Make the first cut on the underside of the branch about 18 inches from the trunk. Undercut one-third to one-half way through the branch. Make the second cut an inch further out on the branch; cut until the branch breaks free."

Step 5

Keep trees trimmed back from windows and doors of your home to eliminate hiding places for burglars. The University of Minnesota adds, "Prune branches that obscure vision at intersections."

Step 6

Dispose of your trimmed tree parts appropriately. If you have a chipper/shredder, many types of trees make good mulch or an addition to your compost pile. If you don't have a chipper/shredder, use your community's green waste recycling program.

Tips and Warnings

  • Always wear gloves and protective glasses when you are trimming trees. Always use caution whenever you use sharp power tools such as chain saws. The University of Minnesota recommends that you do not cut the tops off most types of trees: professional arborists warn that doing this can harm your tree's health.

Things You'll Need

  • Large loppers
  • Tree saw
  • Chain saw (optional)
  • Ladder (optional)
  • Gloves
  • Protective eyewear


  • Tree Boss: Tree Trimming
  • Tree Help: How to Prune a Tree
  • University of Minnesota Extension: Pruning Trees and Shrubs

Who Can Help

  • High Country Gardens: Pruning Hints
Keywords: tree maintenance, pruning cutting, trimming safety

About this Author

Barbara Fahs lives on Hawaii island, where she has created Hi'iaka's Healing Herb Garden. Fahs wrote "Super Simple Guide to Creating Hawaiian Gardens," and has been a professional writer since 1984. She contributes to Big Island Weekly, Ke Ola magazine, GardenGuides and eHow. She earned her B.A. at UCSB and her M.A. from San Jose State University.