How to Prune a Tree

Pruning helps trees grow strong and look attractive and well cared for. A tree is pruned to remove damaged branches to facilitate growth or to give the tree a distinctive shape. It is important to do it correctly to avoid damaging the tree. Continue reading to learn the basic steps.

Evaluate the tree. Take some time to observe the size and shape of the tree and imagine how it should look once pruned.

Identify the main branches of the tree that would come to conform your “skeleton”.  Avoid pruning these branches.

Remove branches that are damaged. Whether they have been damaged by a storm or any other event, if there are broken branches they must be pruned so that the water and nutrients they are consuming are redistributed to the healthy branches.

Reduce the density of branches in areas where there are clusters. To grow healthy trees need good air circulation between their branches. When there are branches too close to each other, fungal growth is favored, and more insects are attracted.

  • Eliminate branches that are growing inward, towards the center of the tree. These cause disorder and are not healthy branches.

Prune branches that cause obstruction. Whether it is low branches that block a path or high branches that endanger the cables, it is good to prune branches that cause some kind of worry.

Prune branches to help shape the tree. If you want your tree to have a more rounded or neat shape, prune the branches that protrude at strange angles; a few cuts will make a big difference.

Prune as little as possible. Each cut you make exposes the tree to an infestation of fungi and insects, since you are removing the protective bark. Prune only what is absolutely necessary and never take off more than 25 percent of the branches of a tree.

  • Make sure that at least 2/3 of the height of the tree is composed of live branches; leaving only the trunk is not enough to ensure that the tree survives.
  • You cannot prune more than once per season. You should not prune more branches, unless a storm breaks some; the tree needs time to recover.

Prune to minimize damage

Dust off your tools to prune in the dormancy period. Less stress is caused to the tree when it is pruned in late fall or early winter, since sap loss is minimized. In addition, it is better for the tree if pruning is done at this time of year because the possibility of the “wound” becoming infested with fungi or insects is reduced, since these are also in a period of dormancy at the end of autumn and early winter.

  • A good indicator of the ideal time to prune is when the tree has lost all its leaves. This means that the tree has entered its period of dormancy until the beginning of spring.
  • If at any time of the year a storm breaks a branch, it is fine to prune it immediately instead of waiting until winter.

Make a cut at the bottom of the branch. This initial cut should not cross the entire branch, the reason for doing so is to prevent the branch from slitting too close to the trunk of the tree when it is about to fall under its own weight.

  • The cut should be made near what is called the neck of the trunk. It is that small part of the bark that protrudes and from which the branch is born. You have to leave the neck intact, meaning that the cut should not be made flush with the trunk.

Cut the branch several inches away from the trunk. Your second cut will cut off the branch at the height of the first cut you made. Remove the branch and what will remain is a stump.

Make a precise cut to eliminate the stump. Now you can make another cut just where the neck of the trunk ends, by doing so you will give the tree the opportunity to heal quickly and healthily.

  • Make sure you do not cut the neck of the trunk; it must remain intact.

Clean your pruning tools. Disinfect everything once the work is finished as tree diseases spread when the tools are dirty.


  • For small branches use pruning shears. For medium-sized branches (more than one inch in diameter) use shears (anvil or curved blade). For branches with a thickness greater than 2-3 inches use a tree saw. Do not use hedge clippers when you trim a tree.
  • Dead wood can be removed at any time.
  • Take a bleach solution with you in a container that is not prone to tip over and that is large enough to submerge your tools. When pruning, you can easily transmit diseases from one tree to another, this risk can be eliminated by frequently submerging the tools in the solution. This becomes especially important in small, highly populated orchards.
  • Verify the appropriate time of year to prune specific trees in your geographic area through a gardening resource (e.g. an association).
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