A quick guide to tree pruning

Most trees, if grown in isolation under ideal conditions, will naturally grow into a shape of appropriate proportions for the species. But because they rarely grow under ideal conditions – or in isolation from man-made obstacles and other plants – trees can frequently benefit from judicious pruning.

There are a number of important reasons for pruning trees:

  • To control and direct growth
  • To repair and prevent damage
  • To increase vigor, flowers, and fruit
  • To promote colorful bark and stems
  • To protect your landscaping investment

Here are a few pointers for proper pruning:

  • Cut off smaller branches and suckers with pruning shears, but use loppers or a tree saw on anything thicker than your finger. Do not try to use a carpentry saw, as the teeth are too fine and would quickly become clogged.
  • Remove heavy branches in two parts. Taking most of the weight off before removing the stub next to the trunk will help prevent ripping bark from the trunk when the branch falls.
  • When removing a branch, do not remove or cut the “collar” – the ridge of bark that encircles the base of the branch. The collar contains chemicals that help the tree heal itself and protect against disease entering through the wound.
  • To prevent tearing off a strip of bark, first make a cut into the underside of the branch, then cut through from the top of the branch to sever it.
  • Do not paint the wound with dressing. It’s not necessary and may, in fact, actually encourage decay by keeping the area moist.
  • Make cuts at a slight diagonal, rather than straight across the branch. Angled cuts are less likely to collect moisture than straight ones.
  • Avoid “topping” a tree (cutting off all branches at the top its growth). Topping destroys the natural shape of the tree; the result is invariably unattractive; and the damage cannot be reversed.