How to Prune a Tree in Your Yard: The Safe Way

How to Prune a Tree in Your Yard: The Safe Way

Learn how to prune a tree without damaging it (or yourself) forever: a quick guide to managing the smaller jobs with ease and safety 


You’re out in the yard doing seasonal work—raking leaves, shoveling snow, planting flowers—and notice that the tree in your yard needs some trimming. If you have several trees that need care, you’ll be keeping busy on the weekends and getting some good exercise in the process.

There could be several reasons to trim down a tree:

  • To remove dead, diseased, or broken branches.
  • To foster better and healthier growth over time.
  • To stop it from knocking down wires or damaging your property.
  • To design and shape it to your wants and needs.
  • To lessen the obstruction of views or pathways.

Whatever the reason, there are smart ways to do the job and not-so-smart ways. For instance, if the job is too big or the tree is very tall, it’s better to leave the job to a professional trimming company or landscaper. But, if the job is manageable and only calls for household equipment, then you should be in good shape. You can even burn the trimmings in your fireplace during the autumn or winter season. Just remember, safety always comes first! 

How to prune a tree: equipment you need for smaller jobs 

Regardless of how small a project may be, it’s always important to have another person working with you. You’re working with sharp materials, so extra caution is always a smart idea. With that said, consider having the following clothing ready to go: 

  • A pair of leather gardening gloves
  • Plastic goggles 
  • A long-sleeve shirt and pants 
  • Steel-toe boots (or worker’s boots) 

Pruning equipment for smaller jobs:  

  • Hand-held shears 
  • Two-handed shears
  • Folding pruner with attachable extension pole 
  • Collapsible buck saw 

These tools are the only things you’ll need for a small pruning job. We caution you to stay away from using ladders and chainsaws for pruning trees. The situation can become very dangerous while using powerful electrical equipment, especially while balancing on a ladder. Once again, safety first! Call a professional for the bigger jobs. 

How to prune a tree: best practices for damage control and proper healing 

Now for the fun part! You’ve taken a look at the tree in question and decided how you want it to look. Before you jump right in and start lopping off branches, let’s first establish some best practices for keeping your tree healthy after (and during) the procedure. 

Only prune your tree during the late autumn or winter seasons 

This tip is very important for keeping your tree healthy. Most people think about trimming their trees during the spring and summer because that’s when the bulk of yard work is getting done. Don’t make that mistake! There are reasons why pruning in the later seasons is best. 

  • You’ll put less stress on the tree during its dormant season. It will not lose a significant amount of sap during the winter and will better heal itself moving into the springtime. 
  • There is less risk of infections, disease, or insect infestation. You want to prune the tree while fungus and insects are dormant as well so there’s less risk of infecting the “wound.” 
  • You’ll have a clearer picture of how to prune a tree without leaves. After the tree has shed all of its foliage for the winter, you can see how to shape the branches. 

Side note: if you notice dead, broken, or rotting branches during any season, you can (and should) remove those immediately.

Make sure you’re not damaging the tree’s ability to heal itself 

Making random cuts to a tree’s branches will most likely damage it forever. There is a certain way to make incisions that promote regrowth and desired shapeliness. Plus, pruning the right way will make the job easier and safer during the process. Here are the proper steps to pruning a branch: 

  • Locate the branch’s “collar” at the base of its outgrowth. You don’t want to damage this section of the branch because it’s part of the trunk or bigger connecting branch. If the collar is damaged, it may not heal correctly. 
  • Make your first cut on the underside of the branch about 12 inches from the collar. Don’t cut all the way through—only about a quarter of the way. This protects the branch from stripping when you make the first full cut. 
  • Make your second cut past the first incision and follow all the way through. Now that the initial incision has been made, you can cut off the branch without having to worry about it snapping from the weight and stripping the bark.
  • Make your final cut as close to the collar as possible without damaging it. After the first two steps, you should be left with a stump. Now you can make the last cut at the base without all the weight from the branch compromising the collar. 

The last rule on how to prune a tree: aim for as little removal as possible

The bottom line is that you should never cut too much. If you’re trying to get a particular shape out of a tree, consult a professional. The “crown” needs to stay intact. Otherwise, the tree will begin to wither. Unless you’re aiming to chop the whole thing down, the last thing you want is a fatally damaged tree unable to heal itself or, even worse, costly damage your house when that tree topples during stormy weather. 

We know you care about your family and your home and will take the steps necessary to keep everyone safe. Have you checked your home insurance recently? Make sure your home is protected and call your local Pekin Insurance agent today!

Do you have any tips on pruning trees on your property? Share your thoughts!

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