How To Prune Your Trees

Professional gardener pruning a tree

What you need to know

Recently I met with a young couple that had asked for an estimate on some tree work. They had a nice home and a well maintained lawn, but I was disturbed by the look of their trees. It was quite obvious that the last person to prune them had failed to follow the American National Standards for tree pruning that arborists use to maintain health and appearance of trees. Damaged beyond repair, the couple’s trees would never be the same.

Pruning Rules

Unfortunately this is an all too common story. Whether a homeowner asks their “lawn guy” to take on this task or they just decide to tackle the job themselves, it seems that many people simply don’t know how to properly prune a tree. While mature shade trees should be pruned under the supervision of a certified arborist, there are a number of smaller jobs you can do on your own, as long as you use the three cut pruning method.

The Three Cut Tree Pruning Method

Now it’s time to do the actual cutting. For best results, we suggest you use the “three cut method” for pruning your trees. Here’s how it works:

  • Cut #1 – To prevent a tear from running along the bark, make a wedge cut on the underneath portion of the branch, at least twelve inches from the stem collar.
  • Cut #2 – On the top of the branch, at least three inches further up the branch, directly over the stem collar, cut completely through the branch. (This will leave a stub.)
  • Cut #3 – The final cut should be made at the top of the branch, as close to the stem as possible, without cutting into the collar. This promotes proper healing.

Just One Bad Tree Pruning Can Destroy Your Trees

As a general rule, you should never remove more than 25% of a tree’s crown. Remember, just one bad pruning can destroy one of the most valuable assets you own…your trees! If the job is too big for you to safely handle it yourself, contact a certified arborist to assist you.

Jon Wilbur is an ISA Certified Arborist and Chief Arborist for Pinellas Tree Service, in Clearwater.

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Copyright, 2005, All Rights Reserved

Jon Wilbur

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