Proper Tree Trimming


Proper tree trimming or pruning encourages a young tree to grow into the desired shape. It enhances the beauty of a tree by removing or reducing unneeded or unsightly branches. Pruning also improves the health value of a tree. After pruning, the tree has additional energy to devote to developing the remaining tree flowers, fruit and limbs. For best results, trim trees in late winter or early spring, before buds appear or growth begins.

Step 1

Prune all broken, dead or diseased branches by cutting them back to a strong lateral shoot or branch. Make quick, clean pruning cuts about 1/4 inch above a bud or branch. Prune above a bud facing the outside of the tree so you force the new growth in that direction. Cut at an angle for upward-growing limbs in order to prevent water from collecting in the cut, advises Texas A&M Extension.

Step 2

Cut off or cut back any undesirable branches in order to control tree size or to shape the tree as desired. Remove crossing branches or ones that grow back toward the center of the tree. You may wish to cut off lower branches to create more clearance, to selectively cut off branches throughout the crown to increase air movement and light penetration, or only when necessary, to cut off large branches at the top to reduce the tree height.

Step 3

Remove any large branches, if needed, with a pruning saw. Begin by making a shallow notch on the underside of the branch, outside of the branch collar (the part of the branch near the trunk containing stem tissue) rather than flush against the tree. Then saw from the top down slightly farther away from the trunk than the first cut, cutting all the way through. Finally cut off the small stub remaining after the first two cuts.

Step 4

Stand back to evaluate your work after you have made the desired pruning cuts. Is there anything you overlooked? Finish up with any final corrective cuts.

Tips and Warnings

  • Do not remove more than about a quarter of the branches during any one pruning session. If a tree needs a lot of pruning, consider pruning a multi-year project in which each year you get closer to your goal. Do not "top" a tree by cutting the top off of the main leader. This practice is not recommended because it negatively affects the tree's structure and appearance, promotes weakly regrowth vulnerable to storm damage, and often shortens the life of the tree, explains Colorado State University.

Things You'll Need

  • Sharp pruning shears
  • Pruning saw (if needed)


  • University of Minnesota Extension: Pruning Trees and Shrubs
  • Texas A&M Extension: Follow Proper Pruning Techniques
  • Colorado State University: Proper Tree Trimming
Keywords: proper tree trimming, proper pruning techniques, trim trees

About this Author

Ann Wolters, who has been a freelance writer, consultant, and writing coach for the past year and a half, has had her writing published in "The Saint Paul Almanac," and in magazines such as "Inventing Tomorrow" and "Frontiers." She earned a master’s degree in English as a second language from the University of Minnesota and taught English as a foreign language for nearly seven years.