Tree-pruning tips for newbies

29 June, 2015

Trees tend to add quite a bit of property value to backyards, and it's easy to understand why. They're beautiful, for one, and provide fantastic shade when you're hanging out on your outdoor sofa or sitting at the patio dining table. They also add an invaluable amount of character to your home, and many people hunt down homes with tall, old trees just for this reason. Whether you've planted your own small trees or were lucky enough to purchase them with the house, all trees take a little pruning. Some folks are quite sure how to tackle these guys, though.

One rule of thumb: If you're going to need a chainsaw, the tree is too big to trim yourself. And that's OK – that's what professionals are for! Smaller trees, luckily, can be tackled without the pros. Here are a few other principles to get you started:

Don't overprune 

While pruning is beneficial for aesthetic purposes, it can be detrimental to your trees if you go overboard. (Unfortunately, tree limbs are not like your hair in this way.) When in doubt, don't cut off more than a third of the tree's growth at a time. 

But don't underprune either

That said, there are a few reasons trimming your tree branches is important. They can grow too close to utility lines, obstruct an otherwise beautiful view of your house or pool and can get infected, spreading disease to the rest of your trees. In these instances, the branches need to go. Pruning stimulates growth (they are kind of like hair in this way), so it's an important part of keeping your trees healthy!

Look at the angles 

Generally speaking, tree branches have two different shapes: V-shaped angles and U-shaped angles. Us indicate strength and sturdiness, while Vs indicate weakness. Try not to trim branches with U-shaped angles. 

Leave the branch collar intact

When you're totally removing branches, don't chop off the branch collar. (It's that ring that circles the branch and lies against the trunk of the tree.) While, yes, removing the branch in its entirety may be gratifying, it's pretty unhealthy. The collar will also grow over the stub eventually.  

Watch for branches that might rub 

Every once in awhile, branches will start growing the wrong direction, rubbing up against other nearby ones. This can hurt the tree over time and prevent leaves from growing, so they are among the most important to clip off. 

Use the three-part cut

With branches thicker than 3 inches in diameter, you're going to want to use an approach called the three-part cut. If you were just to attack these branches from one side, they would eventually rip off under their own weight, totally undermining your tidy pruning. To mitigate this, start cutting 6 inches from where you'd like the final cut to be, cutting into the wood from underneath (or the way you'd like it to fall) until the blade is almost halfway through the branch. Next, saw into the branch from the other side, meeting in the middle and chopping off the branch entirely. Then all that's left is cutting off the stub – above the branch collar, of course! 

Get rid of those awkward stems growing from the base

You'll occasionally find stems growing directly from the base of the trunk, and they can sap nutrients directly from the rest of the tree. Clip away all of them!