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Tree Pruning FAQs

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Q: What is the best time of year to prune?

Although it all depends on your pruning objectives, most trees can be pruned year-round, if pruned properly.

In fact, winter can often be the best time for an arborist to prune. Since the leaves are off, the view of the entire tree’s architecture is clear and a thorough check can be performed. They can locate deadwood by looking for changes in branch color, fungus growth, cracks, and other symptoms that can help them make this determination.

It’s worth noting that some areas may have pruning restrictions in place if a particular insect or disease is a problem. Contact your local county extension office to find any pruning restrictions.

Q: How often do I need to have my trees pruned?

Trees have deadwood pruned out regularly, at least once per year.

Q: What tools do I need to prune my own trees?

If you are pruning a smaller tree, the three basic tools are: hand pruners, loppers, and hand saws. Remember that these tools need to be sharp and clean to ensure success. Do not use shearers to shape young trees. If the tree is larger and requires more attention, contact an arborist or tree care company.

Q: What is the difference between pollarding, reducing and topping?

These three practices are often confused. Some disreputable tree care companies will purposefully use the wrong term to confuse the homeowner.

Here are the proper definitions:

1. Pollarding: This is an acceptable practice. Ultimately, pollarding is dramatically cutting back the major branches to contain the tree’s size. Pollarding must be started when a tree is young and must continue once every two years.

2. Reduction: This is an acceptable practice, depending on the tree species. A clearly defined objective is established before pruning. Branches are selectively shortened to reduce the height and spread of the tree. For example, a tree blocking a solar panel. Often, reducing a tree allows a homeowner to save a tree they might otherwise have to remove. Proper reduction pruning should not cause excessive sprouts to grow.

3. Topping: Topping is not an acceptable practice. Topping is when a tree is indiscriminately cut back to stubs. Usually topping is done to flat-top the tree or cut it back on all sides. The result is unsightly. Topping is often sold as a method to reduce tree size, however studies have shown that a topped tree will actually grow larger over a five-year period compared to an unpruned control tree. This occurs because the severe cuts cause many weak, but fast-growing sprouts to shoot from the stubs.

Q: I’m still not sure I understand – where can I find more?

Check out this animated pruning guide, built by the National Arbor Day Foundation.

Use TCIA’s search tool to hire a professional arborist or tree care company.


8 Comments on Tree Pruning FAQs

  1. Nice read I like how you let everyone know that winter pruning isn’t as bad as people think.

  2. This is some great information, and I appreciate your suggestion to prune your trees at least once per year. My husband and I just moved into our first house, so this is the first time we’ve had trees to take care of. I’ll definitely look into getting some pruning equipment so we can do that yearly and keep our trees healthy. Thanks for the great post!

  3. Really helps that you have all of the definitions listed out here. I do a lot of landscaping work here in s. TX and I may have to send a few of my clients this link lol. Lots of people that don’t know how to properly take care of their shrubs and trees on their property. Or just don’t even know the first thing…. anyway… Thx for the article

  4. Anymore, these days if I get a quote for “pruning” or “shaping” that generally means I’m going to over-quote the YOU KNOW WHAT out of it and pretend like my client knows what’s best for their tree… tired of arguing with people that know it all, lol

    Ugh, just as I get the main bit of the tree out of my yard, I’m now dealing with a stump… Drilled a hole in the middle of the stump, dripped oil down it and let that sucka burn!! That helped a little I guess, but I’ve still got this stump…

  5. It is interesting for me to learn a little bit about tree disease. I did not realize that pruning was such a process. I am excited to try this with my tree.

  6. It really helps that you listed all of the pruning equipment that I would need to prune my own trees. I thought that I only needed a pair of tree trimmers to get the job done. I’m glad that you mentioned to avoid using shearers on young trees. I have a few trees that are still really young, so I’ll remember your advice. Using hand pruners, loppers, and hand saws seems like they would be better for my smaller trees. Thanks for the tips!

  7. Thanks for the information! One of my neighbors approached my yard and told me that I should have my trees pruned soon. He was very vague about how often they need to be pruned, so this information helped answer a few of my questions. I’m glad that you pointed out that I should have them pruned at least one a year. Is there a season in the year that’s better for pruning than others? It seems obvious that summer, spring, or fall would be better times for trimming my trees than winter, but it would be more helpful to know specifically which season my trees would most benefit from pruning.

    • I always hate stitarng a pruning job (on any plant) but then love the end result. I think I always just worry myself into second guessing my choices but should really just have more confidence. Exciting news about the bee arrivals. Our mason bees hatched out this week and hopefully they will survive and use our nest box for the next generation.I have been remiss in not using my soil thermometer lately and should be. I will pull it out though before planting beans which like to pout and rot in cool soil so knowing it is warm enough first before planting is always a good idea.

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