What is Tree Pruning?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Tree pruning is a horticultural practice in which trees are carefully trimmed to remove branches and foliage. There are a number of reasons to engage in tree pruning, ranging from a desire to cut back foliage to increase the flow of light into an area, to a need to trim trees for fire safety reasons. Most trees require regular pruning to grow in a healthy and normal manner, and tree pruning is a routine part of gardening for many gardeners in the late winter and early spring.

Pruning trees should be done in the winter, after the leaves have fallen.
Pruning trees should be done in the winter, after the leaves have fallen.

One of the main reasons to prune a tree is to encourage the tree to grow evenly, so that it will develop a strong, healthy structure. Tree pruning may also be used to shape trees. Christmas trees, for example, are routinely pruned so that they develop a conical shape. Fruit trees are pruned to increase yields, while ornamental trees are pruned to have an even and aesthetically pleasing appearance. Tree pruning also removes dead wood and weakened branches which could fall in a storm, damaging the tree.

Pruning fruit trees allows more light to reach the branches so more fruit can grow.
Pruning fruit trees allows more light to reach the branches so more fruit can grow.

Sometimes, tree pruning is required for fire or utility safety. Trees under phone and power lines, for example, need to be routinely pruned for clearance. Some utilities will provide this service for their customers for a small fee, while others will prune free of charge in exchange for a deeded right of way. For fire safety reasons, trees and shrubs around homes and other structures are also routinely pruned. Pruning also prevents the side of the house from being heavily shaded, which reduces the risk of mold, rot, and mildew in the home.

Christmas trees are usually pruned to maintain their shape.
Christmas trees are usually pruned to maintain their shape.

Different trees grow in unique ways, requiring very different approaches to tree pruning. Some trees, for example, love to be heavily pruned, and they will thrive with up to 40% of their volume removed. Others are more fragile, and need to be pruned and shaped carefully over a period of several years to avoid shocking the tree. As a general rule, tree pruning is performed in the late winter and early spring, when trees are dormant, but about to start producing new growth, and trees are fertilized after pruning to stimulate recovery.

A bleach and water solution can be helpful for disinfecting pruning tools.
A bleach and water solution can be helpful for disinfecting pruning tools.

It is possible to hire a tree pruning service to manage ornamental and fruit trees around the garden, and some people prefer to do this, since they are not comfortable with pruning on their own. Using a service is also highly recommended for tall trees or pruning situations in which power tools like chainsaws may need to be used, unless a gardener has received training in this type of tree pruning. Gardeners who prefer a more hands-on approach may want to take pruning workshops or consider asking a master gardener to visit them and explain the pruning process. Many colleges with agricultural departments offer pruning consultations and workshops at low cost to the public.

Pruning is the act of deliberately trimming branches and foliage from trees.
Pruning is the act of deliberately trimming branches and foliage from trees.
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments

RobertTucson

I find that each of my trees, depending on the winter weather, requires pruning different months each year. It has been my experience that pruning early is better than late, especially with fruit bearing trees.

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