The Right Way to Prune

The best time to prune is in early spring when the trees are dormant. Their idle time could be a great time for gardeners to get into some action. During winter you can see the tree’s ideal shape, and it helps you decide what the next best step is.

Know How to Prune Safely


But before you give in to the itch to prune, first you should decide whether this is an undertaking you wish to take on yourself. Know when to hire a professional. Sometimes, the chore can be challenging, especially when you don’t have the skill or the equipment to take it on. When you see that a branch might be too heavy or will damage your property when it falls, then look up an arborist. A professional can be expensive, but you can think of it as a wise investment. After all, pruning goes beyond just aesthetics. True, properly pruned trees are going to be attractive additions to any garden, but remember that pruning also helps them become healthier, develop stronger branches, and make them less susceptible to storm damage.

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If you’re still ready to do the job, then make safety a primary concern. Pruning involves dangerous tools like saws and electric shears. It’s challenging enough to handling these tools on the ground; it could be worse when working them up in a tree. Make sure your ladder is secure.

Before cutting, consider where the branch will fall when it drops from the tree. Be sure it falls on open space where it won’t hit anyone or dislodge the ladder. If you’re pruning in winter, it would be wise to know if there’s anything underneath the snow before dropping any branches on the ground. Always prune damaged, dead, or diseased limbs first. Take out the weakest of crossed or crowded limbs. If the branches you’re working on are diseased, disinfect pruners with alcohol.

Keep yourself warm when working outdoors. Wear nonskid rubber-soled shoes, snug clothing, and leather gloves as well. Even professionals wear hard hats and protective glasses.

Know How to Prune Correctly


Some basics first: the main branch (or branches) are also called scaffolds while the side branches can be known as lateral branches. All trees develop characteristic silhouettes when grown in the open so it’s best if you know what the tree’s natural shape should before embarking on a project.

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There are two principal types of cuts. The first is called heading, when a branch is shortened to an outward facing bud. The other is thinning, or cutting out the entire branch at its base. How do you know which one to use? It may depend on the type of tree you have and how it bears fruit. For example, a peach tree bears fruit on year-old wood; once fruit is harvested from a section of branch, that portion of wood will not bear again.

Trees can be pruned into many configurations:

Central leader

This style is when the central or main branch is allowed to grow vertically without pruning, Trees maintained this way are well-shaped and less susceptible to winter injury. Avoid pruning heavily during the first few years since they can result in small trees and delayed fruit production. Select 5 or 6 strong lateral ones for scaffold limbs. Choose strong-large-angled branches and prune weaker ones. Eliminate branches that compete with the central leader.

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Modified leader

Young trees are treated in the same manner as those pruned to the central leader method. In the third season, usually during winter, prune the central leader to the level of the top scaffold branches.

Open center


At planting, prune year-old whips to 24-30 inches. In the first dormant season, select 3-4 strong branches to be your scaffolds. They should be evenly-spaced around the trunk, 6-8 inches apart; the lowest at least 15 inches from the ground. Thin the others at their bases. The following season, choose about a third of the strongest side branches from the scaffolds. Thin all others. In the third dormant season, keep about a third of the strongest new shoots.

Pruning should be a regular activity, one that you should expect to do at least twice in a year. It’s a great habit to get into if you want to make sure your trees grow healthy and beautiful.