Tree Pruning 101: What You Need to Know

At a basic level, tree pruning involves removing limbs that are dead, damaged or structurally weak. Unlike trimming, which is focused on beauty and aesthetics, pruning is done to improve tree health and reduce the risk of injury or property damage from falling branches.​ Regular pruning can help protect your trees from disease and insect infestation, ensuring that they continue to flourish for years to come. However, to get the best results, you need to use the correct techniques and tools

Standard Tree Pruning Methods

Certified Arborists typically use one of four basic approaches to pruning:

  • Cleaning to decrease the chance of dead, dying or diseased branches from falling

  • Thinning live branches at the crown’s edge to increase sunlight penetration and air movement

  • Raising to provide vertical clearance and keep branches from blocking buildings, signs and vistas

  • Reducing to reduce height and/or spread for utility line clearance or clear vegetation from affecting nearby structures

Harmful Tree Pruning Practices

Poor pruning practices can damage trees, stunting their growth. The following techniques are not recommended:​

  • Topping to reduce size by cutting the trunk and upper main branches down to stubs

  • Lion’s tailing to thin the interior, leaving foliage only at the top of the crown

  • Rooster tailing to thin out palm branches for protection from heavy wind

Tools for Proper Tree Pruning

When pruning, you need to use the right tools. Hand pruners are appropriate for cutting limbs that are less than an inch wide. Branches that are roughly two inches in diameter can be cut with either lopping shears or a pole pruner. Larger limbs require pruning saws. ​ Whichever tool you end up using, make sure it’s sharp. And if you’re pruning diseased limbs, sanitize the blade between cuts.

Tree Pruning Tips from the Pros

Before pruning, the tree species must be properly identified. While you can technically prune year-round, tree experts recommend strategic timing, based upon the growth response of the particular species. Pruning during dormancy, in the winter, is often best – but that isn’t always the case. As you prune, take care to make sharp, clean cuts. Stick close to the buds, leaving just enough space above to prevent die back. In addition, make your cuts at the buds that are aimed in the direction you want the branches to grow -- doing so helps create a naturally beautiful and shapely appearance as the tree matures. When pruning, tree experts caution against removing more than 25 percent of the branches in any single year. Prune away too many limbs, and plant stress can lead to detrimental effects. Tree pruning can be dangerous work, and limbs shouldn’t be removed without careful consideration. For those reasons, getting a local certified arborist to take on the task is often the best course of action. If you live in the greater Salt Lake or Utah County area, the professionals at Rivendell Tree Experts have the skill and expertise to properly prune trees so that they’ll continue to grow healthy, strong and beautiful.​ A northern Utah industry leader, Rivendell Tree Experts strives to provide quality service and stellar customer care at an affordable price. To schedule a free, no-obligation tree pruning estimate with one of our professional certified arborists, contact our Lehi office today. We also offer a 30-minute pruning consultation service for those who would like to learn to care for their own trees.

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