5 top tips and best techniques for properly pruning a tree

December 8, 2014

Done the wrong way, pruning harms a tree more than it helps. When done right, it's essential. Here are the five top tips and best techniques to properly prune a tree.

5 top tips and best techniques for properly pruning a tree

How do I know when a tree needs pruning?

Pruning a tree means to selectively cut away branches because they're dead, damaged or dangerous. It's also a way to control the tree's growth and shape. Therefore, your trees should be pruned when:

  • Ice, heavy snow or wind has damaged your trees.
  • The tree's branches come in contact with utility wires.
  • The branches or tree are growing dangerously close to the house or other structure on your property.
  • The tree is dying or appears sick.

Performing regular maintenance will help keep a tree flourishing and healthy.

When is the right time to prune?

Trees to be pruned must be examined in the spring or autumn, when they have no leaves. Trimming the branches will change the tree’s shape, so it’s important to have a clear view of its shape before you start.

However, the actual trimming and pruning itself can be done almost any time of the year, depending on the type of tree, its maturity, and the number of branches to be cut.

  • The early spring, before leaves emerge, is the ideal time. It stimulates tree growth and heals quicker.

Best pruning techniques for each need

Each of these different techniques is best suited to achieve a different outcome on the tree. They are:

Maintenance of the crown

  • To remove dead or diseased branches at the top of the tree.


  • To reduce the density of the branches and increase light penetration.

Crown lifting

  • To cut off lower branches along the trunk and allow the tree crown to thrive.


  • To reduce the size of the tree, including its height, width, or both.

Why hire an arborist (tree surgeon) for the job?

Arborists work to improve tree health, reduce or eliminate certain dangers, and improve the tree's appearance. They also help fragile trees heal, and minimize the risk of insect infestation and tree decay.

  • Choosing to prune a young and developing tree is very risky. Not only do you need the proper equipment; but if you don’t know what you’re doing, you will injure the tree and hinder its growth.
  • Trying to trim trees in high-risk situations—such as near power lines—not only endangers you, but also puts property in harm's way. Qualified arborists are trained to safely handle difficult circumstances, and should also be insured should something happen.

Five top tips for best results

If you're still intent on making this a DIY project, here are five key things to remember:

  1. The older a tree is, the more difficulty it will have recovering from and tolerating a pruning. With older trees, if possible, be less aggressive with how much you cut back to give the tree every opportunity to heal.
  2. Cutting branches in the wrong place and at the wrong angle will impede its healing and reduce the tree's lifespan. Perfect your technique and know where to cut before doing any pruning.
  3. Avoid chopping away the crown of the tree to "help" it grow. It's a pure myth and you should steer clear of this practice at all costs.
  4. It’s not recommended to trim branches in winter. The cold infiltrates the "wound" and makes it susceptible to rot.
  5. Never apply a coating or sealant on the tips of freshly cut branches. Trees produce their own protective natural sealant. This practice has actually been proven to harm trees, not help them.

Pruning your trees regularly will help maintain their good health and natural beauty. Plus, it's the responsible thing to do. However, if branches belonging to your neighbour's tree are bothering you, don't touch cut them yourself! The law requires your neighbour to assume the responsibility and cost of trimming the branches.

  • Even if you hire a professional tree surgeon because a neighbour’s tree imposes on your property, you do not have the right to cut the branches.
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