The presence of dead, diseased and damaged tree limbs contributes to the spread of disease. Tree trimming and pruning is important for the safety, health and beauty of the landscape, and removing branches that threaten nearby people and structures is important to the safety of the property. Understanding the purpose and process of pruning will help make sure that every cut you make benefits the tree.
Use the Right Tools
Pruning shears are handy for removing small twigs and stems up to 3/4 inch in diameter. Lopping shears provide better leverage and are useful for branches up to 1 1/2 inches in diameter. Hand saws cut through branches up to 4 inches in diameter. Pole saws allow for sawing branches that are out of reach. Pole saws require careful use to avoid damaging the tree. For tall trees and large branches, a ladder and chain saw make the job easier.
Keep your tools clean and sharp. Pruning spreads disease when tools are infected and wounds left by pruning are susceptible to infection. Wipe tools with rubbing alcohol to sterilize them before use and between plants.
Know When to Prune
When to prune depends on the type of tree and the goals in pruning. Do light pruning at any time. Light pruning removes excess flowers and relieves the fruit burden on the tree.
Spring flowering trees such as dogwoods and trumpet trees, where fruit is not a factor, can be pruned in the late spring, after flowering but before the buds set for the next season.
Prune crape myrtle, hibiscus and other trees that flower on new growth while dormant. Prune large shade trees such as oak trees while they are dormant, or after a growth flush. Avoid pruning trees while they are entering or emerging from the dormant state.
Prune evergreen trees at any time.
What to Trim
Remove damaged, broken or diseased branches.
Remove weak branches throughout the crown of the tree. Selectively trim branches to open the tree up to light penetration.
Trim away lower branches to lift the crown, allowing landscaping and use below the tree.
Remove larger branches when necessary to control the size of the tree.
Removing tall or large branches at the crown will limit the height.
Controlling Plant Size
In some trees, topping the tree controls the height, removing growth to a manageable size. In other plants, topping will encourage growth and ultimately lead to a taller tree. It is best to control the tree height by removing the tallest branches each year without pruning the main trunk.
Trim branches by cutting the branch about 1/4 inch above a bud. Choose a bud that faces the outside of the plant to encourage growth in that direction.
Remove large branches in three steps. Make a cut on the underside of the branch about 18 inches from the main trunk, cutting about 1/3 to 1/2 way through the branch. Move about 1 inch up the branch and cut again from the top side, cutting through the branch until it breaks free. Remove the branch and cut again where the branch attaches to the tree, making a clean cut which leaves the swollen tissue of the branch collar intact.