A Beginner's Guide To Pruning A Tree

A Beginner’s Guide To Pruning A Tree

Pruning trees is one of those tricky parts of the gardening process that can either lead to great success or total failure, so it’s something that many of us just avoid. Whether it’s pruning a wildly overgrown tree that’s taking over the garden or trimming back something smaller to keep in manicured, the whole pruning process doesn’t have to be intimidating.

Tree pruning.

When you learn how to shape a tree or give it a simple pruning, you’ll be enhancing the overall look and health of your garden. A well-pruned tree might be able to show off its flowers or bark far better when pruned, so it’s an essential skill for any gardener or tree owner to learn.

When Should You Prune A Tree?

Learning how to trim trees has a lot to do with finding the right timing, as otherwise, it will be hard not to do any damage. Here are some tips to remember when finding the perfect time to prune back your tree:

  • If your trees have leafed out in Spring, avoid pruning them back around this time as they aren’t yet strong enough. Aim for summertime for these types of trees.
  • If you’re pruning to give shape and form to trees, it’s best to wait until the leaves have fallen so you can see the branches better.
  • For major pruning jobs, it’s best to avoid January to late February as this is maple sugar time and they will not respond well.
  • To prune your trees back for clearance, wait until the branches are sagging at their absolute lowest so you have an idea about what the end result will be.

The Steps For How To Prune A Tree

Depending on the size of the tree and how far overgrown it is, there may be a different approach that works best for your tree. As a general guide, though, these steps will work for pruning most sizes and ages of tree if you’re looking to shape your garden. You’ll need a pole saw that’s capable of reaching higher heights and thicker branches as well as some smaller handheld pruning sheers.

  • Assess the tree - Before you start cutting, spend a few minutes looking at the overall picture of the tree. You’ll need to identify the thicker branches, weaker or dead ones, and those that shouldn’t be removed.
  • Find the correct branches - Look carefully at the skeleton of the tree and make a point of finding the thickest branches. These should never be cut while pruning, so mark them if you think you might need a reminder to leave them alone.
  • Look for damaged branches - The first branches you should cut off will be those that are damaged or dead. A damaged branch, either from a storm or wind, still takes nutrients from the tree in order to stay alive and can take these away from healthy branches.
  • Thin the branches - Look for branches that are crossing over as these can stop it from breathing. By removing the crossing branches you’re ensuring that the air circulates and opens up, which will give the rest of the tree more life.  When a tree is able to get air inside, it will be less prone to attracting fungi or disease so this is important for more than just aesthetics. Next, eliminate the branches that grow inward and clutter the overall look of the tree.
  • Remove obstructions - Look at where the branches grow and work next removing those that might cause an obstruction. These could be hanging over powerlines, rubbing against your roof, or coming into contact with electrical wires. Regardless of where they are, it’s okay to trim these back if they’re causing an obstruction or potential hazard.
  • Shape the tree - Trees can be pruned into any shape that you wish, so if there’s no defined shape of the tree you’re working with you might want to try for a round or rectangular shape. There’s no need to cut too many branches as just a few might have a big impact. After every few cuts, stand back and look at the shape to ensure it’s going the way you like.
  • Keep pruning to a minimum - When pruning, try not to do too many cuts at a time or it can cause stress to the tree. As a guide, never prune more than 25 percent of your tree otherwise it will do more damage than good. Keep pruning efforts down to just once a season, unless absolutely necessary due to storms or bad weather, and be careful of exactly where you prune. 

Safe And Sensible Pruning

You might not think it to look at some of the larger varieties, but trees are extremely sensitive and can react poorly to pruning if you aren’t careful. Taking care not to prune too much off and only focusing on the branches and leaves that desperately need it will ensure you’re pruning effectively and smartly.

In addition to sensible pruning for the tree, you should also keep yourself protected too. When working with a pole saw or other power tools, you’ll want to make sure you’re clear or any power lines or any other obstructions before you begin the task. Always wear the relevant safety gear to keep yourself protected from falling branches or cuts, and don’t rush the pruning process.

Man safely pruning a tree.

Pruning is an essential job for all types of garden, whether you have just one tree or a few, and it’s a simple task that can have such a hugely positive impact on your yard. Learning how to prune a tree is all a matter of planning with a careful approach, so it can be easily learned by gardeners of all skill levels.