Pruning Trees & Shrubs

What you’ll need

  • Pruning shears
  • Hand or chain saw
  • Ladder
  • Lopping shears

step 1: Remove Dead & Problem Branches

On trees, use pruning shears to remove diseased, dead or crisscrossing branches so light can reach the tree’s interior, improving its health and appearance. Cut at an angle, and when possible, cut with an upward motion to avoid tearing bark.

On shrubs, remove deadwood, broken branches and spindly growth. Further pruning with shears can change shrub shape, encourage dense growth, increase flower size or maintain a plant’s size.

step 2: Shape

Imagine your tree’s ideal shape. Then make it real, starting with the smallest cuts and ending with the largest. Use pruning shears for cutting limbs 1 inch or less in diameter. Always cut near a healthy bud, but not too close, or you’ll damage the bud. Remember to use an upward motion and cut at an angle. Cut small limbs as closely to the trunk or branch as possible.

Use a hand saw for branches larger than 1 inch. Make a rough cut about 6 inches from the trunk, then cut the stub off next to the trunk.

Bring out the chain saw for the thickest branches. Use a 3-legged pruning ladder for hard-to-reach areas.

Remove large branches by making 3 cuts: First trim off side branches with shears or a hand saw. Then, using a saw, make a shallow cut at the underside of the limb about 3 or 4 feet from where it attaches to the trunk. Cut a second time at the branch’s upper side, about 6 inches past the first cut. The limb will fall away without damaging the bark. Then cut the limb from the trunk.

step 3: Healing

If you prune at the right time—late winter or early spring—then your trees and shrubs will heal fast thanks to the cooler weather. When spring rolls around, be sure the pruned trees and shrubs are getting plenty of water, and remember to feed them with tree and shrub fertilizer.