Residential Tree Trimming


Homeowners should prune trees annually to control the size and shape of the tree and keep the tree healthy by removing undesirable growth and old wood. Prune most trees in late winter to early spring before the trees leaf out, but wait to prune spring flowering trees (such as magnolia or lilac) until after the flowers have passed, late in spring. While homeowners can trim young trees and small trees by hand, they should call a tree trimming service for large trees they cannot reach with a ladder.

Step 1

Erect a ladder beside your tree if it's too tall to reach the upper branches by hand.

Step 2

Inspect your residential trees, noting branches that are diseased, damaged or dead. Dead branches feel hollow and don't move in the wind. Diseased or damaged branches may be discolored, marred or wounded. They may ooze resin or have large galls. This wood needs to be removed to keep the trees healthy.

Step 3

Combine 1 part bleach with 10 parts water in a bucket to make a disinfectant solution. Slip your pruning tools into the bucket.

Step 4

Remove dead, diseased and damaged limbs by cutting back to the tree trunk or cutting back to a healthy lateral branch. After every cut sanitize your pruners by dipping them in the disinfectant solution; this prevents you from accidentally spreading disease to healthy parts of the tree.

Step 5

Trim off low or downward growing branches that impede movement underneath the tree. Also trim off branches that rub up against other branches, since this friction will cause damage. Train the tree by removing limbs that are growing too close to the trunk, or in undesirable directions.

Step 6

Clip off suckers growing from your residential tree trunk's base and out of the sites of old pruning cuts. Suckers grow quickly and sap energy from the tree.

Step 7

Head back long limbs to encourage lateral branching and control the size and shape of the tree. Trim back to a lateral branch or a node of swollen tissue.

Step 8

Thin out the tree's canopy to promote air circulation. Remove up to 1/3 of the weak and old limbs on the tree in a given year by cutting them off at the base.

Things You'll Need

  • Bleach
  • Bucket
  • Lopping shears
  • Hand saw
  • Hand pruners


  • Texas A&M Agrilife Extension: Follow Proper Pruning Techniques
  • University of Minnesota Extension: Pruning Trees and Shrubs
Keywords: pruning yard trees, trim landscape trees, trimming small trees, pruning small trees, residential tree care

About this Author

Based in Northern California, Elton Dunn is a freelance writer and nonprofit consultant with 14 years' experience. Dunn specializes in travel, food, business, gardening, education and the legal fields. His work has appeared in various print and online publications. Dunn holds a Master of Fine Arts in creative writing and a Bachelor of Arts in English.