Trimming trees helps maintain the health of the plant, prevents damage to property and people, and enhances the appearance of your landscape. But, it’s important to understand that every cut made on a tree can have long-term effects and should be done with care. If a tree is unhealthy or under stress, a heavy prune may irreparably harm it.
Properly trimming a tree requires attention to the branch structure, the types of cuts to be made and the time of year to prune. When a tree is pruned at the wrong time of year, it can promote fungus and disease, stunt its growth, and even kill it.
To avoid making costly mistakes, it’s best to leave large, established shade and fruit trees to professionals. But, if you have smaller ornamental or fruit trees on your property that need trimming, it is possible to learn how to do it yourself with the right tools and a little bit of patience.
The first step to pruning a tree is to get a feel for its height. Use a piece of paper and a yardstick or tape measure to see how tall the tree is in its current condition. This will give you a rough estimate of how much to cut from the ground without using a ladder. To be sure your estimation is accurate, stand with the paper parallel to the ground and in the position that you’ll be when you are working on the tree.
Once you’ve determined the approximate height of your tree, start at the top and work your way down. Before you saw off a tree limb, make a small notch cut with a handsaw about two to three feet away from the trunk. This will prevent the bark from splitting when you’re cutting the limb off. Be sure to stay at least 10 feet from power lines while doing any pruning near them. If you’re unsure of the location of the nearest utility line, contact your local power company for assistance.
If your trees are overgrown, begin with removing dead or damaged branches. This will promote the growth of new foliage and prevent the spread of disease to healthy parts of the plant.
Next, you’ll want to remove crossing or rubbing branches. These branches rub against each other and can damage the bark over time, as well as weaken the stem of the branch by forcing it to bend over too far. You can also use this opportunity to correct crooked or uneven tree growth by straightening the limbs and removing the excess.
To thin a tree, you’ll need to find the area where lateral branches grow off the main branches. You’ll usually notice this by a small lip of bark that each branch protrudes from, called the stem collar. When you’re ready to cut, make your first cut on the underside of the branch about 12 inches from this area. Then, make a cut on the other side of the collar about an inch further out. By making these two cuts, you’ll create an undercut that will keep the branch from falling and damaging your property or hurting people.