The Fundamentals of Tree Pruning

The purpose of tree pruning is to produce safe, healthy, beautiful trees.  To achieve this requires knowing how, why and when to prune, as well as understanding basic pruning techniques.

Pruning for safety involves removing branches which could fall or cause injury, damage property and impede lines of sight on streets and driveways.  Pruning for health involves removing diseased or insect-infested wood, broken or damaged limbs, thinning the crown of the tree to increase airflow, and removing crossing and rubbing branches.  Pruning for aesthetics involves enhancing a trees natural form and character as well as to stimulate flower production.

The three most common types of pruning are crown thinning, crown raising and crown reduction (as pictured below).  Crown thinning is the selective removal of branches to increase light penetration and air movement and to maintain or develop a trees structure and form.  To prevent stress, no more than 1/4 of the trees living branches should be removed at one time.  Crown raising involves pruning of lower branches to provide clearance for pedestrians, vehicles, buildings or improved vision (such as in a right of way).  Crown reduction is used in lieu of topping.  This method is often used when a tree has grown too large for its space and the height of a tree needs to be reduced.

Winter is the dormant season for hardwood trees and is the ideal time to prune.  It is easy to view tree structure, wound closure is maximized and trees are at a lower risk of attracting insects and diseases.  Flowering trees have a more specific pruning schedule which is determined by what time of year the tree species flowers.  Spring flowering trees (redbud, dogwood) should be pruned immediately after flowering while most summer and fall blooming trees should be pruned during the dormant season.  Conifers may be pruned at any time of the year.

There are many rewards to providing proper care for your trees.  Well cared for trees provide curb appeal and can add value to your property while improper tree pruning can lead to irregular or misdirected growth, a weakened tree structure and a tree more susceptible to insects and diseases.  Poor pruning can result in hazardous tree conditions or tree failure which can be costly to property owners.

While tree pruning may seem like a basic weekend chore for the do-it-yourself homeowner, there are many inherent risks.  Each year, a number of amateur tree pruners are seriously injured or killed as a result of coming into contact with energized power lines through tools or tree limbs or by falling off of ladders.  Don’t put yourself in harms way.  Call on us to help you with all of your tree care needs.


(resources and illustrations used in this article were obtained through US Department of Agriculture Forestry Service)