How To Cut Back A Tree

Trees can flourish without care in the wild, but one destined to live long and beautify your yard should have special attention and care. With the right growth conditions – which can only be insured by you- your tree can become the beautiful tree you hope it will be.
To ensure the development of a strong leader and evenly spaced branches a tree must be trained from the whip stage. You must first cut back the top of the whip to simulate branching. After the end of the second growing season it is time to choose the key branches to be the basis of the trees growth from then on. Remember stubs left when removing branched can become hosts to disease or rot.

Selective pruning is often necessary for very young trees to promote structural soundness. You should remove branches that could form weak or narrow crotches when the tree matures. These crotches are libel to split in severe wind or ice storms. Remove double leaders by cutting off one of the competing pair. Take out any branch growing too close to another, remove any crossing branches and any that rub against another.

You may wish to remove lower growing limbs for appearance, to increase circulation of air through the branches, and to make mowing around the tree easier as it grows.


Pruning a tree does two things, it removes dead and diseased branches and limbs, it stimulates new growth in the tree while shaping the size and direction of that growth. Pruning is vital to your trees continued good health. Pruning rejuvenates the tree by opening it up for better air circulation and exposure to the sun.

Do It Yourself Pruning

Use a pruning saw or bow saw for thick branches, and loppers for branches up to ¾ inches. Pruning shears can handle up to ¼ inch branches. If you have a wood stove or fireplace you can break up and save the small branches for kindling.

You will also need a sturdy ladder to reach the high branches. If you do a lot of pruning you might want to invest in a pole saw. This specialty tool lets you reach high branches without a ladder. This tool has a telescoping or sectional pole handle and a powerful lopper that you operate from the ground with a pull cord.

If you have branches rubbing against your house you may be able to to prune them from in the house if you do not have to reach too far out the window. If you have branches hanging over your gutters and downspouts plan to clean the downspouts at the same time you prune off unwanted branches.

How to Prune

Stand back and really look at your tree before doing anything. You must decide what you want to remove and what you want to continue growing. Take your time, walk around the tree look closely at all sides. The first thing to look for is dead branches with out leaves, diseased branches that look like they are decaying, or signs of new growth. Broken life branches should be pruned or removed to stimulate new growth. Remove any branches that grow straight up and any cross over branches that touch other branches. Remember you are only trimming the tree. The natural spread or canopy around the tree should not be disturbed; instead you want to thin out or trim the branches.

The basic rule is to cut at a 45 degree angle just above an outward facing bud eye. So you have room to work, hold the branch slightly flexed and away from other branches. Cut back a branch to the point where it meets another branch, to shorten it and allow more air and light to circulate around the tree. Clear the cuttings as you work and start a pile for kindling. Use a step ladder when pruning a tree. They come in height up to 10 feet and are a safe platform for reaching tree branches. Extend the ladder fully with hinges open and the end caps seated on level firm ground. Do not stand on the top step it is easier to stand on a lower step and work on branches within a comfortable reach. Don’t lean out far from the ladder it is better to move the ladder often so it is in close to where you are pruning.

Stand back and look at the tree often to observe the changes you have made. Look at the tree from all sides. Remember you can not put a limb back on so work slowly and inspect the tree often. Over pruning and creating a visual hole can be prevented in this manner.

Make a jump cut to remove a large branch from a tree. A jump cut is actually three cuts. The branch is caused to snap or jump[ away from the tree trunk by the first two cuts. Then the stub is removed cleanly close to the trunk by the final cut. This kind of cut should only be used on a branch that has a clean fall to the ground. Use the following procedure.

First you saw upward from the bottom of the trunk. In this manner you prevent the limb from cracking and tearing the bark away at the trunk. Stop the cut at about halfway through the limb or when the saw starts to bind in the cut. A few inches out from the first cut star another incision from the top of the branch. Cut until the branch snaps away from the tree and leaves a stub. Lastly cut the stub away by making an upward cut so the bark doesn’t tear as the stub falls off. Make the cut slightly out from the tree trunk. Cut down from the top to meet this cut.

With a heavy branch or one that hangs over a house or a structure you should consider hiring an expert to do the job. Enlist the help of a friend with a long light weight branch with a clear fall to the ground.

Throw a rope over a sturdy branch above the one your cutting and tie the rope to the one you are cutting. Tie it to the trunk of the the tree to stop the branch you are cutting from falling to the ground. Lower it to the ground using a rope after it is cut.

A young tree with two wishbone type limbs that stem from the trunk is likely to have a weak crotch. This can be prevented by shortening one of the limbs. Half way up one of the limbs cut off the top section of an outfacing bud eye. As new shoots grow the tree will be better developed.

Robert Gettle [] 25 years experience in landscaping. Get 4 free ebooks on landscape information from putting in a lawn to installing a backyard pond.

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