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Partner Post: Do’s and Don’ts for Properly Pruned Trees

As the fall leaves drop and the winter wind starts howling, tree limbs will be left barren, making this the perfect time to prune. Pruning makes for happy, healthy trees for years to come.

“The best time to prune is between fall and winter,” explains Steve Nagy, a certified arborist from The Davey Tree Expert Company. “You can really assess the scaffolding of trees.”

Properly pruning a tree not only preserves a more pleasing and natural look, but it also extends its lifespan.

“It is crucial homeowners take time now to look for dead, diseased, or broken branches,” says Nagy. “Pruning can eliminate the spread of disease as well as protect homes from falling limbs.”

Nagy offers these simple do’s and don’ts on proper pruning to prepare trees for winter. 

Do examine before making cuts. Good pruning removes structurally weak branches while maintaining the natural form of the tree. Inspect the branches that need attention and create a pruning plan.dormant-pruning-infographic.jpg

Don’t take on jobs that may be a potential safety hazard.  Big pruning jobs require a certified arborist to be completed correctly and safely.  A good rule of thumb is to never try to prune something that’s over your head or requires your feet to be off the ground.

Do know pruning techniques. Nagy suggests directionally pruning as an alternative to “topping” because it creates healthier trees. “Homeowners think directionally pruning leaves an unbalanced or weak crown, but the tree will actually end up healthier than if it were to be simply topped,” explains Nagy.

Don’t make improper cuts. Indiscriminate pruning is the most common mistake homeowners make when pruning their own trees, Nagy advises.  A cut in the wrong area of the tree can greatly affect the tree’s growth pattern.

Do remove structurally weak branches.  Prune dead or diseased branches, latent buds on tree branches known as water sprouts and suckers, and shoots that grow from the base of a tree. “Removing the weak branches gives strength to the rest of the tree, allowing it to truly thrive,” Nagy explains.

Do use the 3 point cutting method.

  1. Undercut: Start by sawing into the bottom of the limb one to two feet out on the branch to be removed. Saw about half way through the limb to prevent the branch from breaking and ripping bark from the tree.
  2. Top cut: Saw from the top of the limb, an inch or two farther than the first cut. Saw all the way through the branch, leaving just a stub. This cut removes the weight of the branch, allowing the final cut to be made safely.
  3. Final Cut: Finish up by removing the stub; this allows for optimal healing. The last pruning cut should be made just outside a line that would connect to the bark ridge (top of limb) and the branch collar (bottom of the limb).

Don’t prune near electrical lines. Nagy reminds homeowners that some pruning jobs can be dangerous.  When working with large trees and trees with canopies towards electrical lines, consult a professional arborist.

Do take your time. Once the cuts have been completed, take a step back.  Evaluate what other limbs need to be pruned.

Don’t over prune.  Keep in mind that trees need time to heal.  It is best to cut only branches that need it, rather than pruning too many.

“We take pride in our tree care knowledge and expertise,” says Nagy.  “For more than a century, high quality professional tree trimming and pruning has been the cornerstone of Davey Tree’s residential tree service line.”

To consult with your local Davey Tree Expert on tree pruning, visit


The Davey Tree Expert Company’s more than 8,600 employees provide tree care, grounds maintenance and environmental consulting services for the residential, utility, commercial, and government markets throughout the U.S. and Canada. Davey has provided Proven Solutions for a Growing World since 1880 and has been employee-owned for 37 years. For more information, visit