27th November 2020

Tree Pruning Guide: How to Keep Your Trees Healthy

Are you new to tree pruning? While there is no one right way to prune a tree, there are some basic tree pruning guide principles which apply in most cases. Here is everything you need to know to get started.

What is pruning?

At a simple level, pruning is the careful cutting away of branches and shoots. While trees can grow and produce fruit and flowers without pruning, there are a number of reasons why pruning is recommended.

What are the benefits of pruning trees?

There are three main reasons to prune your trees: safety, shape and fruit/flower production.

If branches become damaged or diseased, they can die and fall from the tree. Pruning dead and dying branches from large trees is crucial to protect family members, pets and visitors from injury or property from damage. Large trees can also become entangled in electric or telephone cables or block safety lights or visibility. 

All of these things can be dangerous and healthy branches may need removing to keep your land safe.

Removing select branches and shoots will also alter the tree’s shape and a skilled gardener or arborist will carefully choose which wood to remove in order to stop growth in one direction and encourage it in another. This can be for ornamental reasons or to open out a tree so that it receives more sunlight and better air circulation.

Pruning the right shoots at the right time will also stimulate the production of fruit and flowers. By removing unproductive shoots, the tree is able to devote more energy to its remaining shoots, leading to a better crop.

Choosing the best time to prune trees

Before pulling out the secateurs, it is important to time your pruning wisely. The best time to prune will depend on the species of tree and the purpose of your pruning.

Dead and dying branches should be removed promptly, regardless of the season. Even if these branches are safe they will take valuable nutrients from the tree and increase the risk of disease spreading to healthy parts of the tree.

For general pruning, some trees (e.g. apple, mulberry and red cedar) benefit from winter pruning, while the tree is dormant. Others (e.g. beech, acacia and alder) are best pruned in the late spring or early summer, once the leaves have hardened.

The Arboricultural Association have produced a list of the best time of the year to prune specific tree species.

How to prune a tree

Before you begin, make sure that you have a set of clean, sharp tools. You will need a pruning saw for branches thicker than 4 to 6 inches but smaller branches and shoots can be removed with loppers and secateurs.

You will then need to choose which branches to remove. Start with the dead or dying branches (crown clearing) before moving on to healthy branches. Look out for branches that are rubbing against each other and keep the branch that is going to maintain the shape of the tree you want. 

If you want to thin out the branches, don’t remove more than 20% in one season. This can stress the tree and will deprive it of food by reducing the leaf area.

To remove branches cleanly, first make a vertical cut halfway through the underside of the branch about 18 inches out from the trunk. Next, move slightly further out and cut through the entire branch from the top. Finally, make a 45 degree sloping cut from the raised area of bark next to the trunk. You want to leave a slightly-protruding area which will quickly form a callus. The slope helps to drain water away and prevent disease.

When pruning fruit and flowering trees, your aim is to stimulate new growth. You achieve this by cutting flowering shoots back to a bud that is growing in the desired direction.

While the above tips will help get you started, every tree is different and it takes dedication and patience to truly master the art of pruning.

How Kneebone Trees can help

Kneebone Trees offer a professional Tree Pruning service. We follow the European Tree Pruning Guide and can take care of any and all of your tree pruning needs.

We particularly recommend contacting us if you have large or well-established trees as these can be dangerous to climb and prune without the correct training and equipment.

Pruning is not for everyone. If you lack the time or confidence to tackle your tree growth, let Kneebone Trees take care of it for you. Contact us today!

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