Pruning a tree is a little different from trimming it. Many a simple DIY trimming projects turn into overwhelming pruning jobs by accident.

Don’t let this happen to you! Having a plan before you begin will ensure that you don’t over-prune the tree, harming its long-term health or making it look sparse and sickly.

To prune a tree yourself, you will be making more significant cuts than you would if you were only trimming. You may be pruning the tree to thin the crown of a large tree or to raise the crown for some reason – to give pedestrians or cars clearance, for example. Pruning is also an effective technique for crown reduction, which reduces the overall size of the tree’s crown naturally, without topping the tree.

Here are a few tips to get you headed in the right direction:

  • Don’t prune too much at a time. Starting your trimming and pruning practices when a tree is young saves you a lot of effort years later when the tree has become unruly. If, however, you buy property that has a tree on it which will require heavy pruning, take it slow. You shouldn’t remove more than ¼ of the living crown at a time. You may have to space this tree’s pruning out over 2 or 3 years to make sure you aren’t taking too much off at a time.


  • Space out the lateral branches that you leave behind. This is crucial on young trees, since these branches will ultimately determine the tree’s overall shape and structure. Spacing out laterally growing branches gives the tree a pleasing appearance, and it will keep smaller limbs from rubbing against one another.


  • Always remove limbs that cross one another. It’s important that branches are not touching because they can become weak from the constant friction. A weak branch could fall unexpectedly, causing an injury or damage. There is no need to remove both branches that are touching. Look for the one that is more structurally sound, a lateral branch with a U-shaped angle from the trunk, to leave on the tree. Remove the other branch that is touching it.


  • On large branches, use the three-cut method. This method keeps the branch from splitting due to the stress of the cut. The first cut is a notch on the bottom of the tree about 2 or 3 feet away from the trunk. Only cut about ¼ of the way through the limb. The second cut is just outside this notch. It will remove the majority of the limb so you can make the final cut precisely. The third cut should be just beyond the branch collar to promote quick healing after the limb is removed.

If you are careful, you should be able to prune your trees yourself. You may be limited by the size of the tree or location of the tree. If you feel that pruning the tree is dangerous in any way, it’s probably best to call a pro!

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