How to Trim Overgrown Tree Branches
Ensure your safety and the health of your trees with these pruning tips.
In late winter, yard work isn’t much of a priority, but winter is actually one of the best times to trim many kinds of trees. Without their leaves, tree branches are more visible. Plus, any cuts you make now will be exposed to the elements only for a short time, giving the wounds a chance to seal over before spring.
Need more reasons to get out the saw? Trimming overgrown branches can improve the appearance of your home as well as your personal safety. And removing dead limbs helps trees stay strong, healthy and looking their best.
Follow these tips when trimming:
Do your research
Learn the best pruning practices for the tree you’re trimming. For example, winter pruning is recommended for lots of trees, but it’s not ideal for most flowering species. You also should prune with a purpose, whether it’s to thin branches or to heighten the crown of the tree. “Before you get the shears out, know what you want the tree to do,” says Tchukki Andersen, BCMA, CTSP and staff arborist for the Tree Care Industry Association.
Use the right tools
Pruning shears, lopping shears, a saw, a pole saw and safety equipment (such as a helmet, if needed) are all important to have on hand. Cutting tools should be kept sharp and clean. “In many places, harmful diseases are spread from tree to tree through pruning tools,” Andersen says. She suggests cleaning tools after every cut with a solution of one part bleach and 10 parts water.
Know where to start
Prune for safety and the health of a tree before tackling aesthetics. Start by removing dead, dying or damaged branches.
How do you know when a branch is dead? “Scratch a little area on the tip of the branch with your fingernail, and look for a green area underneath,” Andersen says. If it’s green, the branch is still alive.
Making small cuts is best, but if you must remove an entire large limb, do a three-point cut. Here’s how:
- Cut one-third of the way through the underside of the branch, about 18 inches from the trunk.
- Next make a cut on the top of the branch about two inches further out than the undercut. (Because of the angle of the branch, the cuts should line up as you saw straight down.)
- Make your final cut just above the branch collar (the area at the base of the limb where it meets a larger branch or the trunk). Cut down and out, and avoid leaving a stub. Never apply dressings to cuts.
Hire a professional
Avoid trimming trees near electrical lines or close to your home. These large jobs are best left to a professional. The Tree Care Industry Association can help you find a qualified tree-care expert.