Trees stand like lonesome guardians of the backyard landscape, but even they need occasional help and care. Pruning a tree shapes the tree and encourages new, healthy growth from old branches. Cutting away old branches that have broken, died or look unhealthy prevents the development and spread of disease. Trimming a tree properly requires knowing how you want the tree to look before beginning the process.
Stand back from the tree and look at the natural shape to determine what needs cutting. Look for broken branches, dead branches, areas that are overgrown and ruining the natural shape of the tree and look for branches that are crossing each other or rubbing.
Thin out the tree by cutting back old growth, removing branches to open up the canopy of the tree. Cut branches back at different lengths by removing a portion of the branch 1/4 inch above and actively growing bud, recommends Purdue University. This encourages new growth from the bud and produces side shoots.
Remove branches that are crossing each other to aid in flower and fruit production. Pruning the tree back to above an active bud when thinning prevents crossing branches in the future, says the University of Texas A & M.
Trim thin branches by cutting the wood at a 45-degree angle using pruning or lopping shears, cutting back to an intersecting or lateral branch, says the North Carolina Cooperative Extension Service.
Cut large branches flush to the collar of the tree, at the base of the branch, says Texas A & M. The collar is chemically protected against disease, and the decay of the cut branch is isolated in the collar area.
Remove large branches, more than 1 1/2 inches in diameter by using the three-part cut, says the North Carolina Cooperative Extension Service. Saw at the bottom of the branch using a pruning saw, 6 to 12 inches away from the trunk. Saw a third of the way through the branch. Start another cut at the top of the branch, 3 inches further out than the first cut, sawing until the branch falls away. Cut the stub that is left back to the collar of the tree.