How to Prune a Tree Step by Step

Pruning is very import to ensure proper growth of a plant or tree, but sadly many people ignore it. Not pruning your tree or not pruning it properly can cause serious issues and even lead to the death of a tree.

It is important to know the right way to prune a tree. In this article, we cover not just that, but also explain the importance of pruning.

Pruning is actually a very easy process once you know the details. It not only minimizes the risk of catching diseases but also enhances growth and makes the tree look beautiful.

It should also be added that pruning is not only beneficial for the tree, but for you as well. A home with properly grown trees fetches a higher rate. Moreover, the yield may also improve, providing you with more benefits.

Keep in mind pruning can be risky, especially, when you have little to no knowledge about how to do it. This article will walk you through all the stages of pruning in detail.

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What Is Pruning?

Pruning is a process of removing dead, diseased and decayed parts from a tree that can pose health risks and other problems in a tree.

Before You Start

Any task commenced without proper research contains many risks, so does pruning.

The very first step to prune a tree is to learn about the tree and identify its genus. Doing so will disclose a number of things about the tree such as its hardiness, the best time to prune it. This is important because you need to know about a tree’s ability to heal if a wound is inflicted during the process.

Before you start, you need to have a reason to prune your tree. You can’t just wake up one day and decide to do it. Pruning should be done when one needs to:

  • Improve vitality of a tree.
  • Correct its shape and size.
  • Reduce unwanted weight.
  • Improve aesthetics.
  • Protect it from diseases.
  • Improve yield.
  • For safety reasons.

Now, the reason for pruning your tree will also tell you a lot about what kind of cuts would be suitable to make.

For instance, if you want to prune it to improve fruit production, your cuts need to be very precise. You also have to cut the branches at the right spot so that new branches can grow from there.

If you make a wrong cut and inflict a wound, then the growth of a branch may halt and you may actually end up with less yield than before.

In addition to this, many people also prune to improve the overall look of a tree. For this purpose, you will have to get rid of parts that are growing in the wrong direction and give your tree a shape.

Lastly, safety is a major concern. Weak branches may fall off and harm the trees or people around. It is wiser to get rid of such branches on your own.

Basic Knowledge About Tree Biology

If you want to prune trees yourself then you need to know a bit more about them…

The branch collar of a tree aids in sealing a cut done during pruning. This implies that the role of the branch collar (the boundary that differentiates the tree’s trunk and branches) is essential.

One wrong cut to the branch collar and your tree might have to deal with numerous problems, including decay.

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How Much Should You Prune The Tree?

Consider a number of factors before deciding how much of tree should you prune. These factors include the size of the tree, age and type of the tree (specie).

In most cases, it should be kept in mind to refrain from pruning more than 25% of the canopy of a young tree.

Comparing mature trees with young ones, young trees are more tolerant and can handle 25% of pruning, however, same cannot be said for matured trees because aged trees have a slow growth rate and heavy pruning may cause them serious damage.

In some types of trees, pruning 5% to 10% of the canopy is more than enough to adjust its overall structure.

All in all, this largely depends on why you need to prune and the kind of tree that you have.

Use The Right Tools

Pruning is a process that needs to be done with extreme caution. It not only involves knowing the right techniques to make the cuts but also to have sound knowledge about the tools used to do it.

A wrong tool used on a branch can open a wound so deep that the tree might even die.

It is also essential to use tools that are sharp so that unwanted parts can be cut off in single cuts. Other than that, before using the tools on your tree, ensure that they are clean.

Tools that are rusty might spread an infection and damage the tree. Being extra careful in this situation is what’s needed, so make sure you clean all the tools with alcohol before you carry out with pruning your tree.

pruning tools

Let’s have a look at the tools that one needs to prune a tree.

Pruning Shears (For Smaller Trees)

If you want to prune a tree that’s tiny and has smaller branches then pruning shears are the most suitable. They can reach into places that are hard to reach and remove branches, suckers, stems and bushes in a single cut with extreme ease.

Shears are convenient as they can easily fit in the palm of your hand and you can carry out cuts using one hand only.

Now, shears come in 3 types: anvil, bypass and ratchets.

If you’re looking to cut an odd looking stem and grow a new one in its place, then bypass is ideal. If you want to remove branches and stems that are dry then use anvil shears as they can easily split the branches even if they are dry.

Ratchets are also quite similar to anvil shears. With them, gardeners can easily cut branches and stems in stages, reducing wrist strain.

If you’re looking for a pruning shears to cut ⅝ inch in diameter then your best bet is to get Fiskars All Steel Bypass Pruning Shears. It has a sharp blade and it is also very easy to use.

Pruning Loppers (For Bigger Trees)

Since trees are sturdy, you will need to have strong pruning loppers. For a firm grip, make sure it has big handles for you to hold and operate. Also, the length should be at least 2 feet (61 cm).

The pruning lopper is a perfect tool to use in a cramped space as it can easily cut branches which are more than one inch in thickness.

Loppers, such as Corona loppers from Quality Farm Supply, not only make the process easy but also speed it up.

To cut off branches around 1 ½ inches in thickness, Fiskars 28 Inch Bypass Lopper is a good choice.

Chainsaw (For Extra Large Trees)

Pruning loppers and shears can get most of the pruning job done, but you’ll need stronger and bigger tools if you need to get rid of heavy branches.

Large trees have branches so wide, a lopper can’t cut through. What you need is a chainsaw and a good amount of strength to balance and operate it.

A handsaw can also be used in place of a chainsaw but it requires a tremendous amount of strength and twice the effort. Using a chainsaw is much better.

Pole Pruner

You can’t reach at the top of the tree and prune the branches if you don’t have a pole pruner.

It eliminates the need to use a ladder to reach at the top of the tree and prune dead or damaged branches. You can simply stand on the ground and a standard pole pruner can easily reach for 8 feet (2.4 meters) high.

If you want to prune the top part of a tree, then you can also use electrical pole pruners but they are a bit costly.

If you’re looking for a pole pruner then Fiskars 7.9-12 Foot ExtendableTree Pruning Stik Pruner can do the job easily as it can cut 1 ¼ branch in diameter with a single cut.

Safety Gear

Pruning is not child’s play. It not only endangers the tree but also the person who carries out pruning.

Note that safety gear is mandatory and not an option when you’re pruning trees. First, you need to have safety goggles. They keep your eyes safe from the powdery substance that comes out of a branch when you cut it. It can damage your eyes and may even cause you to lose balance, so make sure to keep your eyes covered by using goggles.

Hard gloves that cover your hands completely are also important when you are pruning a tree with heavy tools.

Sometimes when a branch doesn’t go down easily, brute force needs to be exerted on the tool to make the cut. This can cause cuts and scratches on the hands and even cause burn marks. If the person is wearing tough gloves, these minor injuries can be prevented.

If you’re still confused about which tools you should get to conduct pruning, then check out this video:

The Right Way To Prune Different Parts Of a Tree 

Different parts of a tree can’t be pruned in the same way, with the same tools or techniques.

In case of unwanted branches, it’s safe to cut them off at the point of their attachment which, will most likely be a trunk or another branch.

Cutting Stubs

Never make the mistake of leaving stubs behind because they can destroy not just the branches but the trunk as well. Moreover, they negatively affect the lifespan of a tree and make way for other hazardous conditions in the tree.

How To Cut Stubs: Stubs look unnatural and pose several threats to the tree. Therefore, they need to be cut as soon as you see them.

Stubs are situated on the trunk collar and outside the branch bark ridge. The branch bark ridge is an elevated strip on the branch crotch. It’s important to know how to make the cut.

Here’s how: You need to make the cut at an angle of 45 to 60 degree, right outside the collar of the trunk and the brank bridge. Most people fail to make the cut at the right angle and cut the stubs in a straight cut.

A straight cut is also called a flush cut; it should be avoided because it opens up a larger wound than expected and may cause the tree to fall sick.

Cutting Larger Branches

It may be piece of cake to cut smaller branches, but cutting larger and thicker ones is a completely different ballgame. A single cut isn’t enough, you’ll have to make more than one cuts to cut off larger branches cleanly.

The First Cut: The first cut should be made to the underside of the branch at a distance of 1 feet from the tree’s crotch. Make sure you make a cut that’s ⅓ of the branch’s entire diameter.

The Second Cut: Observe the place where you made the first cut and move 3 inches ahead from that cut and make the second cut on the top side of the branch. After you’ve made the two cuts, the branch will easily come off with a slight force.

The Third Cut: The first two cuts were aimed to remove half the branch. Once done, make the final cut on the edge of the branch from where it’s starting. This will easily cut off the remaining branch.

Here’s a video that explains how to cut large branches with ease:

Cutting Codominant Stems:

Codominant stems are forking branches and are also equal in size. They are very difficult to remove and require extreme precaution. The most common reason for them forming on a tree is pruning negligence when the tree used to be young.

Cutting off both the stems is a bad idea in this situation. What you need to do is cut the lateral branches on the stems as it will reduce the growth of codominant stems and make one of the stems dominant.

When their growth is halted, they are easier to cut off.

Cutting Dead Branches

If there are dead branches on your tree then you need to remove them as early as possible to avoid tree decay. Dead branches are infected and this infection can spread rapidly in the entire tree, causing it to die.

To identify dead branches, look for the bark. It will seem to be falling off and showing dead wood behind. To test if the branches are really dead, check below the outer layer of every branch and look for cambium, a green layer. If it’s green, then the branch’s alive. If it’s turned brown, the branch is dead.

To check the layer beneath, you can use a knife and scratch the underside of the branch. If the branch is too thick and hard then use a saw to scratch the surface below the branch and look for cambium.

If the branch is dead and small, make a single cut outside the ring to get rid of it in one go.

If it’s thick then you need to follow the same 3 cut method explained for cutting larger branch trees. To learn more about dead branches, here’s a video to help you out:

Cutting Rubbing Branches

Rubbing branches can damage each other. Observe the two branches and pick the one that is damaged or smaller than the other.

When you find one, make a single cut if the branch looks weak and thin. If it’s thick then use the 3 cut method to get rid of one.

Thinning The Crown

Crown thinning involves cutting off specific stems and branches to promote air and light circulation so that the tree can grow properly.

Crown thinning also improves the overall aesthetics and structure of a entire tree and makes it appear more alluring. Also, it keeps the tree safe by removing any dead branches or stems that are growing upwards.

Narrow V Shaped Stems: These should be removed first. They don’t have a strong attachment from the trunk and can cause a crack at the place where the two branches intersect each other.

The right thing to do here is to cut off one so that the other one can take over and grow properly.

More on how to do crown thinning:

When Is The Best Time To Prune Your Trees?

Experts recommend that the best time to prune trees is the dormant season, that is late winter.

The advantage of pruning trees under this weather is that trees are practically dormant in this weather, hence, their healing rate is fast. Even if a wrong cut was to be made, it would heal faster.

Pruning in dormant season can save your trees from many diseases and allow it to grow more well.

Avoiding Oak Wilt Disease

Refrain from pruning your trees from April to October if you wish to keep your tree safe from oak wilt disease.

Oak wilt disease occurs when a wrong cut inflicts a wound on the oak and causes fungi to grow. The outcome is dangerous as leaves start discoloring and in case of a serious wound, the tree can die too.

Make sure you do not prune your trees from April to October. However, if you have to due to an urgency, apply latex pain and dress the wound as quickly as possible to keep the tree safe.

Avoiding Stem Cankers

Wounds inflicted during pruning can cause stem cankers. When a wound is inflicted on the bark, a bacteria tries to pass through this wound and damage the tree. If you think your tree is suffering from a stem canker then it is better to cut off the affected part.

If disease has spread a lot then your tree may die soon. Make sure that you prune your tree in winters when it is dormant and has fast healing abilities.

Here’s a video that explains why you should prune your trees in dormant season:

The Verdict

It is of vital importance to prune your trees when they require it because if you fail to do so, they may fall sick, stop growing, look unattractive and could even die. Make sure  you follow the right pruning techniques and use the right tools to carry out the process.

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