How to prune a tree
Desperate to cut back your trees? Don’t just hack at them as this could damage their growth. Instead, read this ‘How To’ guide and learn the correct way to prune many different types of trees.
There are many different reasons why you might need to prune a tree. Maybe you’ve inherited an overgrown garden with trees that have outgrown the space and need reducing in size. Perhaps the tree has some dead, diseased or crossing branches that look unsightly. Whatever the reason, successful pruning makes a tree look neat, attractive and will help it to grow strong.
We’ve put together this handy ‘how to’ guide to equip you with the right tools and steps for pruning different types of popular trees.
Top tip: Before starting the job, check that your type of tree can tolerate pruning or it may not recover.
When is it best to prune a tree?
As a rule of thumb, it’s best to try and keep tree growth under control with regular pruning, and the best time to do this is in winter, early spring or late summer when the tree is dormant.
How to prune a tree
Here’s how to prune a tree to keep it small
- Secateurs: Ideal for pruning and cutting stems that are the thickness of a pencil.
- Pruning saws: Come in various sizes and can be used on branches up to 5cm thick.
- Long-handled pruners: These are secateurs on a long pole and are ideal for branches that are high up.
- Loppers: These come with heavy-duty blades and are ideal for tough pruning.
- Take time to assess the tree you are about to prune so you can plan the shape and size you would like to achieve.
- Identify the major branches that make up the skeleton of the tree and be sure not to remove these. Then go to the end of each major limb and clip to your desired shape or size.
- Shorten side branches all over the tree to make it smaller and more attractive. To get a balanced result, work slowly and carefully and evaluate the effect of removing each branch before making a cut.
- Remove any damaged or diseased branches, so water and nutrients can get to the healthy branches.
- Thin out areas that are bunched up, such as crisscrossing branches or branches that are too close together, as these will foster the growth of fungus and attract unwanted insects.
- Prune branches that are causing an obstruction, such as touching your house, a fence, or telephone wires. It’s fine to remove branches that are a nuisance.
- Prune only as much as you absolutely need to, and never remove more than 25 percent of a tree’s branches or it won’t recover.
How to prune a large tree
Large trees with thick branches can be challenging to prune and need to be carefully managed as not to permanently damage the growth. If at any point you’re in doubt, speak to one of our professional tree surgeons for pruning advice.
When properly pruned, tree branches form a callus over the removed branch, essentially healing the tree. Most tree branches that are being cut back to the trunk, or main branch, require three cuts to prevent damage. The first two cuts manage the weight, while the final cut promotes callus growth.
- Pruning saw
- For your first cut, measure around 18 inches from the trunk up the underside of the branch you are removing. Cut up halfway through the branch.
- For your second cut, move to the top side of the branch and cut an inch further out from your first cut. Carefully cut down until the branch breaks.
- For your third cut, you’ll need to find the branch collar on the trunk. This is at the base of the branch where it meets the trunk and slightly swells. Your final cut must be just to the outside of this collar but without leaving a stub. Make a 45-degree angled cut pointing outwards from the base of the tree. This prevents water from seeping in and promotes the formation of the callus.
We would strongly recommend calling in a professional landscaper to prune a large tree. Not only will you have to potentially work at heights, but it is important to ensure that the correct method is undertaken to ensure the future health of the tree. Find out more in our tree trimming cost guide.
How to prune fruit trees
Pruning fruit trees is important to ensure that each year your tree grows a healthy stock of fresh fruit. The best time to prune fruit trees is when you plant them and in the years to follow, in the early spring before the buds break and the trees are dormant. Take a look at our breakdown of different fruit trees:
How to prune a plum tree
Unlike other fruit trees, plum trees should be pruned when they are in full bloom and never in winter when they are dormant as this can expose them to fungal infections. Prune once a year and cut to a wine glass shape with the centre of the tree relatively free from branches and foliage.
How to prune a cherry tree
A cherry tree is another tree that should be pruned in spring and summer rather than winter. Use minimal thinning cuts to open up the canopy. Thinning cuts are those which remove an entire shoot, branch, or limb up to the point of its origin.
How to prune a fig tree
Fig trees over three years old should be pruned every winter, otherwise, prune younger trees in spring. Remove dead, diseased, or crossing branches, and cut off suckers at the base.
How to prune a pear tree
Pear trees have relatively soft wood compared to apple trees and branches can break under the weight of the fruit, so must be managed by pruning. Prune in a wine glass shape and avoid pruning stems from which fruit will be produced in the summer.
How to prune an apple tree
Prune in winter when dormant, or in spring before it blossoms. Use thinning cuts to remove entire branches right down to their point of origin and open up the tree to receive more sunlight. Use heading cuts to lop off a length of the branch to allow more vigorous growth below the cut.
How to prune a peach tree
Prune in spring before growth starts and start by identifying three to five main branches you wish to keep and remove any other large branches. Prune your peach tree in a ‘V’ shape with these three to five main branches forming the V.
How to prune a lemon tree
Prune a lemon tree in spring and start by removing weak branches and small growths near the base of the trunk. Remove any thin branches to give the bigger ones an energy boost.
How to prune ornamental trees
Ornamental trees are trees that are grown for their beautiful aesthetic value and the sheer joy of having them. Ornamental trees tend to have stunning flowers and fragrance, or an interesting shape or colour. Take a look at how to prune different ornamental trees:
How to prune a magnolia tree
Prune between mid-summer and early autumn to avoid cuts bleeding, and prune branches back into a natural fork to avoid leaving unsightly stubs.
How to prune a lilac tree
Lilacs need regular pruning to maintain size and shape. Prune in spring by nipping of longest stems and thinning out any weak stems at the base.
What is a no-no when pruning trees?
Topping a tree, or lopping off the very top, is a big mistake. Not only does it destroy the natural shape of a tree and often leaves the tree looking disfigured, but it also sends the tree into repair shock mode and makes it susceptible to heat and light damage and insect infestation.
We strongly recommend that if you are unsure at any point to get in a professional. It is important that tree pruning is undertaken in the correct way to ensure the future health of your tree. Find a professional tree surgeon here.