Proper Pruning Principles

Proper Pruning Principles

Pruning of tree limbs on a regularly scheduled basis will improve tree health, control growth, and enhance fruiting, flowering, and overall appearance.

Trees should be pruned for the first time 2 to 5 years after planting, then every 5 to 7 years thereafter. Pruning is best done from winter to early spring (before new growth starts) because wounds close quickly as growth starts in the spring and insect and disease infestations are less likely.

Step back and look at the tree to be pruned. Try to imagine what it will look like when it is going to be larger, and remember that tree limbs will increase in diameter and lengthen but will not move upward on the trunk as the tree grows.

Proper Pruning Cuts

In order to make a proper pruning cut, you, you must first locate the branch collar.

The branch collar is an extension of the main stem of the tree where the branch joins the main trunk. Cutting into the branch collar allows decay to expand into the main trunk of the tree.

Always make pruning cuts on the outside of the branch collar. Do not leave branch stubs, living or dead. Use sharp hand tools designed for pruning and wear safety equipment. Do not paint wounds with wound paint. It does not prevent decay and may interfere with proper wound closure.

Homeowners should never climb a tree to prune limbs or attempt to prune limbs near overhead powerlines.

Never remove more than 1/3 of the live crown in a single pruning.

Pruning of trees prior to Storms

Prune for strength and form. Topping a large tree causes excessive sprouting of weakly attached new branches, and also increases wind resistance by creating denser branching patterns. Excessive lifting creates a condition where trees become top-heavy. Both of these methods of pruning increase the chances of wind damage in the long run.

Prune for strength by removing:

  • Co-dominant leaders and multi-trunks to encourage the growth of one main single “central” leader;
  • Injured, diseased and dead branches; and
  • Rubbing branches.

Prune for form by removing:

  • Excess lateral branches to produce a ladder effect at maturity.
  • Water sprouts and root suckers.
  • Limbs that turn inward, cross or extend.