Tree Care Tools, Tips and Techniques

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Remember that time you brought home your little tree, how adorable it was with cute flowers and the promise of long limbs? Fast-forward to today. It’s no longer the ideal plant you envisioned. The tree is now older with an untamed personality. It displays an indecent number of blooms and pushes branches wherever it feels like. Trees are valuable assets but they lose their appeal if left unpruned. The health of your trees and shrubs depend on the attention and care you provide. There’s nothing less conspicuous than an outstanding pruning job. But on the flip side, improper pruning can greatly reduce your landscape’s potential. In most cases, it is better not to prune at all than to do a shoddy job.

Pruning is both an art and a science. The artistic part involves getting rid of unwanted pieces so that your plant appear attractive. The science is all about skillfully eliminating defects that hinder growth. Most gardeners forget about one of these aspects during routine landscape maintenance, resulting in avoidable mistakes. Every gardener can relate to that feeling of panic when you make a cut and realize you have ruined the shape of your tree or shrub.

Whether you are new to gardening or just need a refresher, this guide will tell you everything you need to know about taking care of your trees.

Why Prune?

Pruning is an essential gardening technique for aesthetics, health and safety of trees. When done correctly, pruning encourages good looks in trees, and flowering and healthy growth in flowering plants. A proactive gardener begins pruning as soon as a tree is planted. Envisage the shape of the plant at maturity. It helps to prune trees and shrubs at the right season. Some plants are best pruned right after flowering. Some during winter.

Proper tree and shrub pruning helps to: Alter/rejuvenate growth, maintain safety by protecting property, passersby and passing vehicles, influence direct growth, get rid of undesirable growth, produce more fruits or flowers, create particular shapes, and promote plant health.

When Should I Prune?

Pruning at the wrong time may not damage the plants, but it can sacrifice that year’s fruits and flowers. You don’t want that. For spring-flowering trees and shrubs, begin pruning immediately after the flowers fade. For summer blooming shrubs and trees, start pruning before new growth emerges, ideally during winter or early spring. Pruning during dormancy boosts new growth as soon as the weather starts to get warm. If you experience extreme winter, you may want to try late summer pruning. Early blooming trees include Ornamental Cherry, Magnolia, Apricot and Flowering Plum. Late blooming trees include Dogwood, Catalpa, Hawthorn and American Smoke Tree.

Tree Pruning Tips

Going to prune with an arsenal of sharp tools and no plan is failure in waiting. Before you head out to prune, gather the appropriate tools. If it’s a big tree, for instance, you may need to have a stepladder.

If you are just starting out, leave large, established shade trees to tree care professionals and qualified arborists.

There are various ways to shape a tree. Pruning of young trees should be limited to corrective pruning. A gentle hand is the best when tree training.

Do not prune more than 25 % of living branches. If you prune too much, your trees will sulk and bear many leaves. As a rule of the thumb, limit yourself to pruning a third or less of a tree annually.

Get rid of dead, broken, diseased branches and those that rub or cross one another.

To allow water to roll off, ensure you make cuts at a 45-degree angle.

For best results, you need a sharp blade. A cleaner cut heals faster than a cut made with a dull blade.

Before making cuts, consider these guiding principles provided by the U.S. Forest Service:

  • For branches with a diameter less than 2”, make the cut.
  • For branches with a 2-4” diameter, think twice before cutting.
  • For branches with a diameter more than 4”, cut only if you have a convincing reason.
  • Never get rid of more than ¼ of a tree’s total leaf-bearing capacity.

There are 4 basic pruning cuts, each giving its effect to a plant. They are pinching, heading, shearing and thinning. Pinching involves using your thumb and forefinger to pinch off terminal buds to stop the stems from elongating. Heading is almost similar to pinching, but it requires you to cut farther back on the shoot. It is normally done with hand-held pruners and is aimed at stimulating the buds just below the cut to give way for dense growth. Shearing is a method adopted by many gardeners to form a bush or hedge with a square or spherical form. It is done using electric or hand-held hedge shears. Lastly, thinning is aimed at minimizing the bulk of a plant with minimal regrowth and is done using a pole saw.  Each of the four ways can improve both the shape and health of a tree.

Pruning Tools

Whatever tool you use to prune your trees, having the right tool is essential. Remember to always keep pruning equipment sharp and clean.

Pruning Saw – a pruning saw is suitable for limbs larger than 2 inches. This saw cuts on the pull stroke, which is an easier and safer method for your trees. The sharp razor teeth minimize binding.

Bypass Pruner/Hand Sheers – the blades in a bypass pruner cut past each other just like scissors. This tool is suitable for shoots and small twigs up to ¼ in diameter.

Pole Saw – a pole saw is suitable for those high, hard to reach branches. For best results, ensure the blade is sharp. For easy storage, go for pole pruners with a handle that disassembles.

Loppers – loppers are suitable for branches 1-1.5” in diameter with dead or hard wood. It is advisable that you buy lopping sheers with extendable and lightweight handles to reach higher branches with ease.

Tips to Get the Best Tree Service

Tree pruning is not a project to rush into. If you opt for an arborist, you should first check whether they are certified. The cost of fraud and scams in the tree service business is staggering. There is a huge difference between an arborist and a certified arborist. Certified arborist have studied the art and science of safely pruning and removing trees. Don’t shy to ask for up-to-date certification and insurance. Certification can be from Certified Tree Care Safety Professional (CTSP) or International Society of Arboriculture (ISA). Next, you should check whether they have the right equipment for the job and that they follow the industry safety standards. They should wear protective gear and use personal protective equipment for safety.


Tree and shrubs are pruned for several reasons, all of which result in a better performing and better-looking tree. There is never a bad time to remove damaged, diseased or dead branches. Now is the best time to let your tree retain its lost glory. By shaping trees at an early age, they will bend to your will and keep their limbs flexible, strong and close to the ground. Hopefully, this guide will help you prune so ineptly that your shrub or tree will look like a masterpiece.


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