How to Prune Tree Branches – Complete cutting guide

Every gardener wishes to have healthy blooming flowers and abundant production of fruits and vegetables in their garden. It is not easy to create an ideal garden though! You need to regularly maintain the do’s and don’ts to keep your plants healthy. Proper care of the plants includes regular watering, sunlight, fertilizer, and most importantly pruning. When summer comes one question might be in your mind how to prune tree branches?

In Gardening, pruning is the cleaning or cutting of unwanted branches, weeds, trunks, vines, and other parts of plants to promote healthy growth. It is one of the essential steps for your plants’ health as getting rid of all the unnecessary parts reduces the infection, and mold attacks while giving a tidy look.

If you are a beginner who wants to know about the basic guidelines for this essential step of gardening tree pruning, you are in the right place. This article will give you all the nitty-gritty details to cut the tree branches of your garden safely and properly.

Table of content of tree branches pruning guide

  1. Benefits of Pruning Trees
  2. When should Tree Branches be Pruned?
  3. Video: How to cut tree branches
  4. 4 Types of tree pruning methods 
  5. How do prune large and thick branches?
  6. How do cut small tree branches
  7. Essential Garden Pruning Tools
  8. Garden Pruner Buying Guide
  9. 7 Best Tree Pruning Tips
  10. FAQs About How to Prune Tree Branches
How to Prune Tree Branches

Benefits of Pruning Trees

The importance of pruning tree branches properly cannot be neglected by the gardeners. Though cutting overgrown branches and unnecessary parts take much time but are worth it. It also takes much energy and effort if you have a big garden with several plants. Thus, some home gardeners start to skip regular and proper pruning. There are several benefits of pruning and knowing them all will help you to perform this essential exercise for trees more seriously.

  • Exposure to Sunlight:

Getting appropriate sunlight is extremely important for every species of plant. Sunlight helps plants with the process of photosynthesis. Through this process, light energy is converted into chemical energy and provides plants with energy that is essential for their growth. If trimming is not done regularly, the overgrown branches prevent the leaves from getting sunlight. Thus, cutting tree branches will allow the leaves of getting exposed to sunlight while promoting healthy growth.

  • Absorbing Nutrients:

Trees absorb necessary minerals and nutrients from the ground for healthy growth. If regular pruning is not done, overgrown branches affect the nutrient absorbing capabilities of the trees. Nutrient deficiency destroys tree health and reduces the production of fruits. Thus, you need to trim trees regularly to help them absorb important nutrients from the soil.

  • Prevents Root Loss and Infections:

If you do not prune your trees regularly, the weight from the overgrown branches and unnecessary parts can put excess pressure on the roots and may cause the loss of tree roots. Pruning also prevents your trees from getting mold attacks or spreading infections which cause by lack of air circulation. Air circulation is necessary for balancing the moisture level as high moisture can spread tree disease. 

  • Improve Appearance and Productivity:

When you cut the overgrown and dry branches, your plants look neat and well structured. A garden looks more beautiful when it is filled with structured and neat plants. Regular and proper pruning also promotes the overall health of plants which increases productivity. Your garden will be full of blossomed flowers and abundant fruits as well vegetables if you do not neglect your plants from regular pruning.

When should Cut Tree Branches?

It is advised to start the plan of pruning in the late Autumn. As trees start to remove the old leaves from the Autumn, you can easily see the branches that need to be trimmed. Summer is the best season for pruning due to an adequate supply of sunlight and air for the fast healing of trees. Try to avoid pruning in the fall because the temperature promotes the growth of various diseases and infections.

Video: How to cut tree branches

Video Credit: Lowe’s Home Improvement

4 Types of the tree cut methods: The best way to cut tree branches

Several pruning options can be found based on the needs of your plants. You should not cut every branch of your trees in the same way. Knowing about cutting the branches as per different parts of the trees will help you in pruning properly. Some of the most common options of tree pruning are-

Crown Thinning Tree :

Crown Thinning Tree

The process of crowning thinning is suitable for cutting weak and thinner branches to open the cover of your trees. So how does this process benefit your trees? Opening the canopy by crown thinning improves the air circulation and exposure to sunlight for better growth and health. 

Removal of thinner branches will help minimize excess pressure from larger branches too. For this process, focus on trimming branches throughout the crown including the edges. You also need to avoid removing branches more than necessary to maintain a good structure of your trees. 

Crown Lifting Tree :

Crown Lifting Tree

This pruning process is suitable for the lower branches of the younger trees. By cutting down the tree crown of the lower branches, you can reduce the quantity of larger branches. It is advised to perform crown lifting on younger trees because the wounds on younger trees heal more quickly than on grown-up trees.

If you want to clear the branches from the trees beside the sidewalk or roads of your house, you can choose the process of crown lifting. It allows for maintaining a good structure that goes well with your house or the landscape of your garden.

Crown Reduction:

Crown Reduction

If you want to cut high as well as large tree branches to reduce the mass and height, you can select this pruning process. It will be better to use the crown reduction method if your trees are young. In the case of large trees, it is recommended to cut the entire branch rather than trim it. 

If you are a beginner in pruning, try to perform crown reduction after learning it properly from professionals. This process is much more complicated and needs great attention while cutting tree branches. You need to keep the focus on preserving the main branch while removing the dry and decayed branches. 

Dead Branches Pruning:

Dead Branches Pruning

Dead pruning or crown cleaning is a pruning process that focuses on cutting infected or dead branches only. Cutting down the infected branches will reduce the spread of the diseases. Dead branches can be troublesome if they are heavy. These branches fall anytime and damage your property. People can also be injured by dead branches. 

This is one of the easiest pruning processes which you can be done easily even if you are a beginner. If the dead branches are larger and heavier, you can reduce the size by trimming. Even if you are unable to cut thick tree branches that are dead, trimming them can give a cleaner look. Trimming will also make it less dangerous even if it falls. 

Pollarding Tree :

Pollarding tree

The process of pollarding includes maintaining a particular structure for the tree. For pollarding, you need to remove all the branches while staying within the structure of the main trunk and its secondary branches. This process needs regular trimming which you need to follow attentively.

You need to start this pruning process when your trees are young. The process is called pollarding as it aims to provide a continuous supply of diameter poles. Thus, you need to perform pollarding throughout the entire lifespan of your trees at a regular interval.

How do prune large and thick branches?

While cutting thick tree branches, you need to keep in mind that 3 cuts are required to properly prune the trees. The First 2 cuts focus on removing extra weight from the thick and large branches whereas the final cut is needed for callus growth. Callus formation is essential for the healthy growth of trees. Thus, you needed to properly prune thick tree branches to form a good callus. 

  1. Select a Branch: 

    For the first cut, you need to select a branch and go 18 inches up the underneath of that branch. Then, cut about half of your selected branch. The first cut is needed for preventing the bark from coming off from the trunk side after the branch falls in the second step.

  2. Choose a Location of the tree branch

    In this step, you need to choose a location that is about  1-3  inches away from your first cut. Then you cut the selected part of the branch until it falls.

  3. Cut a branch with angle measurement

    For the 3rd and final step, find the branch collar and cut the entire branch at a 45-degree angle measurement from the base of the tree.  The branch collar is the area where the truck and branch are enjoined.

Following the measurement of a 45-degree angle promotes the fast formation of the callus while preventing water damage.  This base also contains the stem tissue which can be a bit coarser in some trees. Without leaving a remnant, cut the outside of this area with proper care.

How do cut small tree branches

If you want to properly prune small tree branches in your garden by yourself, follow the steps discussed in this section.

  • Step-1:

Select a pair of pruning shears that have sharp blades and can make a clean cut. Try to find the branch collar which is the joining part of the branch and trunk of a tree. The problem with trimming small tree branches is that the branch collar is often invisible. Thus, examine your tree branches and find the slightly elevated spot between branch and trunk to identify as the branch collar.

  • Step-2:

Find a spot that is a little further than the branch collar so you can easily leave the collar from the reach of your pruning shears. You need to be careful enough to not leave any remnant from the cutting though.

  • Step-3:

If your tree branch is less than 1 inch in thickness, be sure to find the spot which is a little further than the branch collar. After fixing the spot, carefully cut the brunch at an angle of 45- 60 degrees to the bark edge. 

  • Step-4:

If the branches of your small trees are thicker than 1 inch, apply the 3-cut rule while trimming. As I discussed in the section on pruning large and thicker trees, the method is quite similar. Find a spot that is 10-15 inches up from the branch collar. 

After cutting till halfway from the first cut, go little inches up from that spot and make the second cut. The cut on the top of the branch should be deep enough to make it fall. Finally, cut exactly past the branch collar of your tree, and you are done!

What to use to cut tree branches: Essential Garden Pruners

Gardening is a tedious job. Even if you have a small garden at your home, you need to maintain all the do and don’ts of gardening for the proper growth of plants. Gardening will require less time and energy if you have proper gardening tools. In the case of pruning, using suitable and comfortable gardening tools will help finish the job faster. Some of the commonly used garden pruning tools are discussed below.

  • Pruning Shears:

Pruning shears are one of the most commonly used gardening tools. Both professional and beginner gardeners can use pruning shears for trimming plants. These hand pruners are mostly designed as scissors so that you can handle them easily. You can trim small plants, shrubs, bushes, roses, and trees with it. Two types are available in the market that differs in the operating style. The two varieties are- bypass and anvil.

Bypass shears have one sharpened blade that is crisscrossed over an unsharpened blade. This pruning shear is suitable for cutting and trimming plants that have soft branches within a thickness of a pencil. On the other hand, anvil shears are ideal for cutting woody branches. Anvil shears are designed as a knife on a cutting board with which you can crush the branches too.

  • Pole Pruners:

If you are looking for gardening tools that can cut high tree branches, pole pruners are the best option for you. The pole of this pruner is mostly 8 feet tall but if your trees are way higher, you can buy telescopic pole pruners which reach up to 30 feet long trees. The pruning blades of pole pruners are added to the top of the pole. At the other end, these poles have a lever or rope which needs to be operated by pulling.

You can cut up to 3 centimeters thick branches of tall or high trees that you are unable to reach. Some pole pruners are also designed in such a way that you can convert them into pole saws. Converting into pole saws will be best if you want to cut high branches with 5 inches of thickness. While using pole pruners, avoid standing directly under the branches you are cutting. It will save you from getting injured by the fallen branches of high trees. 

  • Loppers:

Loppers are suitable for cutting the branches of trees that are 2 to 3 feet in height. These pruning tools are designed with long handles and heavy-duty blades that are used to trim medium-height tree branches more swiftly. Some of the loppers are equipped with a ratcheting function to trim branches that are tough to reach. Nowadays parts of the loppers are easily replaceable for long time usage.

If you want to use loppers to trim trees, select the one with bypass blades. Bypass blades provide a cleaner cut with edges. As we all know, clean cuts are essential for promoting the healthy growth of trees. Thus, the ideal loppers are designed with lightweight handles and durable bypass blades. 

  • Hand Saw:

Hand saws are suitable for cutting up to 5 inches thick tree branches. There are mainly two types of operating styles in hand saws. Some of these are designed to be cut by the push stroke whereas some come with a pull stroke. Nowadays, modern hand saws also are designed with both the pull and push strokes. These saws have coarsely angled blades to be able to cut with both types of strokes. 

A push hand saw cuts the branches while you are pushing away the saw. On the other hand, a pull hand saw cuts the branches when you pull it towards you. If you are going to work by standing on a ladder, the safer option will be using a pull saw. While working on the ground, you can use a push saw or hand saw with both the features of a pull and push saw. 

  • Chainsaw:

A chainsaw is the best option if you need to cut thick tree branches. You need a powerful garden tool while cut tree branches that are thicker than 5 inches. The chainsaw comes to the rescue for pruning thick branches with its powerful engine. Small chainsaws may come with electric engines but large chainsaws are operated with a gas engine. Small chainsaws can be carried and charged more easily than larger ones.

Let me tell you a small trick for selecting the appropriate size of chainsaw for you. Think about the thickness of the thickest tree branch in your garden. Now measure the thickness and add extra two inches with it. Keeping this final result in mind, you will be able to buy a suitable chainsaw for your garden. Chainsaws with gas engines create a loud noise so if you want to work without extreme noise, go for small chainsaws.

Things to Consider while Buying Pruning Tools

Before discussing the step-by-step methods of pruning tree branches properly, you need to know the ideal feature before buying pruners. A good pruner can be your trustworthy companion while cutting tree branches. Professional gardeners always recommend buying pruning shears that are cost-effective with a good operating style and ergonomic design. 

  • Ergonomic Design:

While buying gardening pruners, I always look if the brand mentions ‘ergonomic’ in it. An ergonomic tool is designed to provide maximum comfort and safety to the user while working. If you have a small homely garden with few plants, you may not feel the necessity of using ergonomic pruners. If you have a big garden with several plants, you know how tiresome and lengthy pruning can be. An ergonomic pruning shear is soo safe and easy to work with that you can feel the difference after the first use.

The lightweight handles of ergonomic pruners help the user to hold for a longer time. The handles are covered with shock-absorber cushioned pads which provide the users maximum comfort. This feature is best for people with weaker hands or health issues like arthritis. Most of the brands provide anti-slip grip and safety locks to keep the users from getting injured. Thus if you prioritize your safety and comfort while cutting tree branches, always look for pruners with ergonomic features.

  • Operating Style:

There are several pruning shears in the market that comes with different operating style. Mostly 3 types of pruning shears are well-known to the gardeners. These are- bypass, anvil, and ratchet pruning shears. Bypass garden trimmers are handier and more popular among these options. Bypass pruners are designed with two carved blades that can be compared to scissors. One blade has a sharpened edge and the other blade is thicker with an unsharpened edge. 

Anvil pruners are designed with a single cutting blade and a flat edge. It is quite similar to a knife on the cutting board and works well for trimming dead woods. Ratchet garden pruners are similar to anvil pruners but function with a mechanism that operates pruning in several steps. It is more suitable for people with smaller and weaker hands as it helps the wrists from straining. So go for the one that suits your need well.

  • Cost-effective:

Many gardeners focus on buying budget garden pruners thinking that only the operating styles matter. I would recommend you to give a thought about buying the cheaper one if you want a long-lasting service. Selecting pruning shears from popular companies like Felco, Corona, and Fiskars will ensure you quality products. You should also look if these companies mention ‘heavy duty’ or ‘professional’ in their product description. 

Heavy duty or professional pruning shears mostly use good-quality blades that are sharp enough to give a clean cut to your trees. These blades are made of high carbon steel that is durable and long-lasting. The titanium coating prevents rust and after several uses, these blades can be sharpened again like brand new products. Thus, you should not worry about pricey and good-quality pruners due to their lifelong service.

7 Best Tree Pruning Tips to Keep in Mind

  • Avoid Pruning for Too Long Branches:

While you cut tree branches, be cautious to not over prune. If you keep pruning more than the tree needs, it can cause infection. You need to also make sure that the stub or remnant is not too long. If you leave a longer stub after pruning, it will stop the callus from developing properly. 

  • Find the Branch Collar First:

No matter which branch you are trimming, always make sure to find the branch collar first. As branch collars are almost invisible in some of the species, you need to find a coarse area or circle that lies between the branch and trunk.

If you miss out on the branch collar, your pruning can go entirely wrong. The wound of the trimmed branches will not heal if you do not cut the outside of the branch collar. Moreover, the tree may get rotten later if you somehow damage the branch collar while trimming.

  • Cutting at a Downward Angle:

When you cut the tree branches, always remind yourself to cut at a downward angle.  It prevents the water from settling down on the pruning wound. Water is bad for the wound as it can create moisture that is harmful to the tree’s health. Trees can also rot down due to excessive exposure to water.

  • Avoid Covering the Tree Injuries: 

You may think that covering the tree injuries is helpful for the process of healing. In reality, it causes more damage to the tree. If you do not cover or seal the wounds, the trees will get proper air circulation. Getting proper air acts like medicine to the wounds which will help the trees heal properly and swiftly.

  • Remove the Forked Trunks:

The forked trunks are often formed as a bunch of trunks that are less steady than a single tree trunk. Forked trunks often create a bowl-like cavity that can contain water after rain or attract insects to live there. Both are harmful to the healthy growth of the tree. 

To prevent the growth of forked trunks, you need to prune away all other trunks when your tree is young. The remaining trunk will then grow as a regular tree. 

  • Avoid Trimming in the Fall:

In the fall, trees are exposed to heavy moisture due to the temperature drop and snow. As you know by now excess moisture is harmful to the healthy growth of trees.  It also makes trees prone to several fungal diseases and infections. You can start preparing to trim the tree branches during late autumn. 

Summer is the best time for pruning as the trees get proper sunlight and air circulation which heal their wounds swiftly. On the other hand, fall pruning can rot away the trees due to the absence of warm weather. Keeping this in mind, plan your pruning after the fall season.

FAQs about How to prune tree branches :

How do I know which branches to prune?

If you see that the branches of your trees are above four feet and rising near the center, you will know that these branches need pruning. You should also cut the tree branches that are dead, infected, brushed against the stem, or crossed each other.

These types of branches reduce the healthy growth of trees. So, you need to keep an eye on and prune the problematic branches.

Should You Trim Lower Branches on Trees?

It is better not to trim the lower branches on trees. The lower branches provide the trees with structural support or strength that protects them during adverse situations. During a storm or heavy rain, trees are protected by these lower branches.

Prune during the calmer season only if these branches are infected or overgrown otherwise avoid cutting.

How do You Trim High Branches Yourself?

If you want to trim high tree branches by yourself, it is advised to buy pole pruners. Using rope or ladders for reaching tall trees is much riskier as you can get injured by sudden falls.

Pole pruners are designed with long poles that have pruning shears attached at the top. You can reach and prune tall trees with this garden tool by standing safe on the ground. 

How Much of a Tree You can Cut without Killing it?

As over-pruning is not advised to avoid damaging the branch caller and stems, you can cut up to 15 % percent of the plants. If you accidentally over prune any trees, it is better to remove them entirely to stop spreading the infection or rotting.

How do You Trim a Tree Yourself?

If you are a beginner in gardening, it is better to follow some basic and easy steps while trimming the branches. You can start with removing or cutting branches that are infected, damaged, weak, or dead. 

You can also cut overgrown and overlapping tree branches that are damaging the outlook of your trees. You can trim or pull away suckers that grow around your tree trunk. All of these works can be done without much hassle.

What is the Difference Between Pruning and Trimming?

Though these two words have almost the same meaning, there lies a slight difference. Pruning is the removal of unnecessary branches that are damaged, dried, or infected. Whereas, trimming is performed to promote the healthy growth and production of trees.

These two tree exercises are performed during different times of the year. It is important to know the differences if you are into gardening.

What is a Tree Branch Called?

There are different names for the large and small branches. The large tree branches are called boughs. The small tree branches are commonly known as twigs.

What is Christmas Tree Trimming?

Christmas tree trimming is cutting its branches half of the actual length. As Christmas trees can be messy and overgrown with plenty of branches and leaves, this trimming is performed to create spots for hanging Christmas decorations and ornaments.

This article provides you with basic guidelines on how to properly prune tree branches. If you are a beginner who wants to learn about cutting tree branches safely and easily by yourself, it will help you from A to Z of tree pruning. As we know, pruning can be tiresome and lengthy if you have several trees in your garden.

Besides discussing the basic steps of trimming trees, this article also provides you with how to prune tree branches guide and essential tips to choose suitable gardening tools that will lessen your workload.

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