How to Trim a Tree Correctly, for Maximum Growth

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Keeping trees healthy and thriving is the goal of most homeowners. Trees that are stunted or have dead or dying limbs are dangers to structures and people as well as unsightly blemishes on a home’s landscape. If your property has several trees, it’s likely that at least one needs to be trimmed or pruned for any number of reasons.

Trimming a tree to help it grow to its maximum potential is something that you may not consider as you keep an eye on your landscape. However, it’s one of the best ways to help the tree reach its full, healthy and attractive potential. There are several things you’ll need to know concerning how to trim a tree before you make the decision to trim any on your property.

What’s the Difference Between Tree Trimming and Tree Pruning?

The terms “trimming” and “pruning” are often used interchangeably when discussing the work that needs to be done on tree limbs and branches. While they can often mean the same thing, there are some subtle differences.


Tree experts say that you should start pruning when there is damage or disease present in a tree. This most often occurs when limbs or branches are damaged by storms or wind or are hit by pests or diseases. Tree limbs or branches that grow close to one another and start rubbing together also need to be pruned to proactively prevent damage.


Tree trimming, on the other hand, refers to selectively cutting a tree’s limbs or branches to give it the light, moisture, and room it needs to grow most effectively. The term “trimming” most often describes this type of work done on ornamental or fruit trees, but any tree can benefit from judicious trimming done to help it reach its maximum growth potential.

Why Does Trimming Help a Tree?

The reasons to trim a tree are numerous. One of the biggest benefits is the increased air circulation and available sunlight a tree can receive when you remove unneeded limbs or branches. Trimming doesn’t just remove branches that can become a hazard in storms or because they are weak.

You can also impact the tree’s roots through trimming, as stronger roots give the entire tree a boost in production of leaves, flowers or fruit. Judicious trimming also improves the tree’s overall canopy or the top part of the tree known as its crown. A well-trimmed crown presents a much better appearance in a home’s landscape.

What’s the Best Time to Trim a Tree?

The optimum time to trim a tree depends primarily on the reason why you’re doing it. Are you doing it to get rid of damaged or diseased branches or limbs? then you should do it as soon as possible. Otherwise, the trimming timetable depends on what type of tree you are trimming.

Many people prefer to trim tree limbs or branches during the tree’s dormant season. This is a good time because the tree then puts great effort into producing a vibrant display of growth once temperatures warm. If you’re looking to encourage growth in new sections of the tree or to increase the size or diameter of its canopy, you should trim during the dormant period.

During Summer Months

Trimming during the warmer summer months has its benefits as well. Trimming right before growth begins helps the tree see explosive new leaves and branches. Meanwhile, trimming once growth has ended helps slow down that growth. Trimming at this time can help discourage growth. This happens in an area of the tree that you need to contain without removing entire sections of the tree.

Trees that flower or produce fruit have their own trimming schedules. You should do the trimming after the flowers have finished blooming. You can trim fruit trees in the summer after you picked the fruit. However, experts recommend doing the trimming in the winter months. Then, the leaves are off the tree, which makes it easier to see the work you need to do.

How to Trim a Tree Correctly?

Planning is the first and most important step in understanding how to trim a tree properly. Without a plan, you can irrevocably damage the tree. You’ll need to know how you want to improve the appearance and growth of the tree. Do this before you make the first cut. Experts recommend trimming lower branches to help promote growth in the tree’s canopy. However, a tree shouldn’t have more than 25 percent of its limbs or branches removed in any one season.

Once you’ve made your plans, it’s time to gather the proper tools. They are essential to understanding how to trim a tree. Hand pruners are small tools that can handle smaller branches. Experts generally recommend bypass hand pruners because they cleanly cut the wood, keeping it from becoming prone to disease. Loppers can cut branches that are over one inch in diameter. Pruning saws match branches that are up to three inches in diameter.

Proper Techniques

The act of trimming a branch or limb damages a tree, to put it bluntly. However, proper techniques allow the growth of a callus. This covers the exposed wood that might otherwise be open to disease or rot. Knowing how to trim a tree properly when making the cut is important. When trimming smaller branches, it’s best to cut just above a junction with other branches. Alternatively, do it close to flower or fruit buds.

For larger branches, experts recommend making a cut at the branch collar. The latter is located close to the junction of the branch and the trunk, rather than flush with the trunk. Flush cuts don’t promote the growth of calluses, thereby allowing disease and rot to enter the trunk. When you know how to trim a tree properly, you won’t need to seal the cut area. The tree will instead heal itself with protective growth.

Summing Up

It isn’t difficult to learn how to trim a tree. It’s good to do it to help encourage its growth, but it does take some education and planning. Are you not sure you have the know-how or the right tools to do the job properly? Then, it’s a good idea to call on a tree trimming service to do the job for you. Your tree will respond with healthy growth that provides shade and beauty for many years to come.

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Jonathan E. Bass

Graduated from Middle Tennessee State University. I am currently a gardener. I have a small garden behind my house. I love it.

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