Tree Trimming Tips for the Home Gardener

Whether you have trees in your landscape or use them in your garden, pruning is essential to keeping them healthy. Trimming focuses on removing branches that may interfere with the overall health of a tree, like those that block sunlight or hang over power lines. It also helps maintain a polished look, elevating your entire landscape.

The frequency of tree trimming depends on the type of tree and its location, but most deciduous trees should be pruned every two to three years, while evergreens require less maintenance. This gives the tree time to recover between cuts and reduces the risk of damage caused by high winds or snow.

It’s important to have a professional trim your trees, but even if you’re not an arborist, you can keep the process as efficient as possible by following some general tips. Start by examining your landscape and identifying the trees that need to be pruned. Then, think about what you’re trying to accomplish with the trimming. The type of pruning needed for a given tree will determine the specific methods used, such as reducing density, crown thinning, and structural (subordination) cuttings.

For instance, if you have an overgrown shade tree, it can interfere with your lawn’s sunlight exposure, and the extra branches might block a home’s windows or cause a tripping hazard. These are good reasons to cut back the excess branches, but you should do so carefully. Each cut you make compromises a tree’s natural protection system and leaves the tree vulnerable to insects, disease, and fungi.

Instead, focus on eliminating branches that are dead or dying—this will help keep the tree healthy while reducing its risk of falling limbs. It’s also beneficial to remove branches that are rubbing against electrical utility wires or structures, touching roofs, or overhanging sidewalks and driveways.

When you do prune, be sure to leave a small stub or branch collar so that the wound has a chance to compartmentalize and close over. Never lop off the tops of trees or shrubs, and don’t remove more than 25 percent of a tree’s limbs.

To avoid tearing or ripping, cut a branch at its point of origin where it joins the trunk. This will ensure the best, least-traumatic wound for the plant, and it will be able to handle the stress of growth in the future. It’s also better to prune young trees more often than older ones, as they’re easier to shape when they’re smaller.

If you’re unsure of how high to reach in a tree, ask your arborist about the best way to measure its height. One method involves standing behind the tree and measuring the angle of a point on its trunk at arm’s length from your head. Another method involves using a piece of paper. If you’re not near a tree, try holding a flag or a brightly colored stick above your head at a known height and looking down to see how far you need to reach.