The Key to Tree Trimming


My lawn maintenance articles usually reflect what I’m dealing with at the time I sit down to write them. This month is no different. A neglected shade tree in my back yard is in need of some seriously expensive work beyond my abilities and wallet due to its size and the danger it presents to my property. With that being said, I’m no arborist but have learned a few guidelines about trimming shade trees any homeowner can apply to smaller trees not requiring a professional. Trimming a shade tree properly will strengthen the tree, increase its longevity, and have eye appeal as it matures.



New trees should be allowed to grow a couple years before pruning to establish a strong root system. Be very careful when using your line trimmer to cut the grass around the trunk of tender young trees. Stripping the bark off week after week will girdle the tree and kill it. Either pull the grass by hand that grows up next to the trunk or add mulch around the tree after planting.


3-D Branches

The most obvious place to start is to remove the 3d’s: dead, damaged, or diseased branches. If branches are small, sharp hand pruners or loppers will provide a clean cut. If larger branches require a handsaw or chainsaw, research and learn the three cut method to avoid tearing the bark or cutting into the stem collar. Always practice extreme safety when using a chainsaw or hire a professional.



Once all the bad branches are cleared out, start by cutting the suckers or sprouts that usually appear at the base of the tree or inside the crown. They have no future and end up using more energy than they give back to the tree. Suckers grow vigorously and need cutting every few weeks.


Lower Temporary Branches

Lower branches are considered temporary and should be left alone for a few years. Once the tree gets established, select which branches will become the permanent lower branches. Remember, branches don’t go higher as the tree grows taller.  Select to remove those branches that will hit you in the head when mowing or walking beneath your shade tree. Remove the lower branches over the course of a few years until you reach those selected to be the permanent lower branches.


Downward Growing Branches

Next, any branch growing downward or off the bottom of a permanent branch can be removed. Beautiful trees are groomed to grow up and out from the main trunk not down toward the ground or back toward the center. Removing branches growing downward lightens the permanent branches and helps in lifting them upward away from unsuspecting heads.


Obvious Damage Control Branches

Finally, branches that are crisscrossing and rubbing on each other can cause wounds leading to disease and insect infestation. Select one and remove it. Branches hitting your house and cars in the driveway or street can cause property damage. Get rid of them. Branches poking the eyes out of pedestrians and bicyclists on sidewalks are a no brainer too.


Pruning trees is an art form. Following a few simple rules and selecting branches to remove before the tree grows too big will save time and money while producing a beautiful healthy tree for you to enjoy for many years. 



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