Arbor Artist: The Pruning Basics

Happy Spring to one and all! It has certainly been busy so far!

With all this fabulous weather settling in, it is the perfect time to share some insights about “The Basics of Pruning”. We want everyone to be educated in the basics so not only do they understand what they are doing but also what effect that action may cause.

First – why do we prune trees? We prune trees for safety, optimum health, better structure and to reduce or eliminate problems.

Second – what should you prune? That really depends on your intended outcome. So what is your goal? Safety, overall health or clearance for structures and pedestrian traffic? Once you have a goal in mind it will be much easier to envision ‘what you should prune’.

With your goal in mind, use the 4 D’sas your guide:

  • Dead or dying branches
  • Diseased branches
  • Directional (branches growing in towards the center of the tree)
  • Dense growth (thinning cuts to remove rubbing, conflicting or too closely spaced branches, water sprouts, suckers, etc.)

Now that you have a goal and know what you are going to prune – let’s talk about how to make that pruning cut.

Trees have their own built in process of healing – if a proper pruning cut is made. A proper pruning cut is going to be clean and encourage the healing process. To make a quality cut you need to use a 3 Step process. The first cut will be to the underside of the branch (a couple of inches out from the branch collar), maybe 1/4 to 1/3 of the way through the branch. The second cut will be another inch or so out from the first cut but this time through the top of the branch and all the way through. This helps prevent the branch from breaking or ripping away from the trunk as it falls under its own weight as you cut. So the branch is gone but you have only made two cuts. Where is the third? The third will be the final cut to remove the stub. Be careful to minimize any damage to the branch bark ridge and branch collar so the healing process can begin.

So now you know how to prune – or at least have an idea. Here are a couple of other things to keep in mind….

Safety first! And Always! Any time you are pruning you should have on safety goggles/glasses. Depending on your surroundings you will also want to dress appropriately. For example: working at the edge of the woods – long pants will help keep pests off you and prevent the accidental rub against things like Poison Ivy

Make sure you have the right equipment. Small pruning cuts can be made with hand held pruners (by-pass style) to anything smaller than your pinky. If you try to use them on anything larger – you will do more harm than good. A good pair of compound pruners can handle anything up to about an inch or so in diameter. The next tool in your arsenal would be a good hand saw, for anything 2 to maybe 3-inches. Beyond that needs power tools – and that is when you need to call the experts.

One last thought – no ladders – please. If you cannot safely reach the branch you are trying to cut from the ground, please do not use a ladder. The level of accidents goes up much exponentially once you are off the ground and it is not worth the risk to get that branch on your own. This is why our tree workers are trained to climb!

The final topic we will overview here is “When do I prune”. That answer can get esoteric quickly. The standard you will likely hear is: winter (or the dormant season) is the best time to prune. That is a safe bet but it may have an effect on your flowerings trees and woody perennials. The more specific answer is: prune to the species! In other words – do a little research about the plant you are about to prune first and learn what is best for it. Some plants can get cut as flush to the ground as practical every few years – and they love it. Other plants will just die if you do the same thing. The more you know about what you are approaching the more successful you will be with your pruning. Not to mention how happy and healthy your plants will be.

A quick side note regarding research: We all have our favorite myths and ‘old wives tales’ about the best way to do things. Some of those traditions are incredibly accurate – others, not so much. When it comes to plants, your best bet is to find research based information. So remember to look for the .edu extension on websites or confirmed resources.

Thanks as always for checking in with us! We will be back soon!

In the meantime, if you would like to have one of our ISA Certified Arborists come out to your home to evaluate your trees; feel free to call the office and talk to Christine about scheduling an appointment. Be sure to mention that you read this Pruning Post! Take care until next time!

~Arbor Artist– 703.777.8806 –

[Ask The Expert is a promotional program sponsored by Loudoun Now. The writers have held out that they have experience, training, education and/or certifications to qualify as experts in their fields. Although shared on Loudoun Now‘s online platforms, the writers are solely responsible for this content.]

Leave a Reply