Lets touch base about how to prune trees, because it is one of those gardening chores that must be done at a certain time of year. If you have run across any of the “guides” on pruning trees written by the extension programs of state universities, you may have had your head spin around. Here are all the simple guidelines on how, and when to prune trees.


How To Prune Trees & When To Prune Trees


When to Prune Trees

For all of you who pull out the clippers and loppers right after Christmas, you might want to think again. While many experts recommend this, we think there is good reason to wait. Part of the reason to prune trees is to remove any dead or dying tissue that didn’t survive winter temperatures. Most trees will come out healthier on the other end if you wait until after the coldest part of winter has passed, but before vigorous growth starts in early spring. For most people that’s February to March. That having been said, it’s ok to do minor pruning to weed out dead branches, etc… at any time of year. Note: it is okay to still prune fruit trees if they have started to flower. In fact, fruit trees tend to get some winter kill of branches, and waiting for the first flowers will help you determine which branches are dead and need to be removed.

How To Prune Trees & When To Prune Trees


How to Prune Trees That Are Large

Short answer? Don’t. Large trees need an arborist or tree trimming service for both safety and health of the tree.  Fortunately, large trees rarely need to be pruned yearly!

How to Prune Trees That Are Small

You prune decorative garden trees for two reasons… First, is to improve the health of the tree. Pruning creates more compact and healthy growth, and opens up the crown for good air circulation. Second, to improve the appearance of the tree. Every time you make a cut in your tree, first think about which one of those objectives you are trying to achieve… if your cut fits with one of those two, it’s a good cut. Check out this great reference from Lanco Tree.


Note: Make sure your pruners and loppers are sharp and clean. You don’t want to invite fungus or disease. And if they need to be replaced, we like all the garden tools & supples at Gardener’s Supply Co.

To prune a small tree for health, first you want to remove any dead or unhealthy branches. Make your cuts just outside the collar of the branch…don’t cut too close to the trunk, and on the other side, don’t leave a stub. Below is an example of a proper cut. If branches cross over or are too thick, prune them out to allow the branches you leave room to grow and flourish. Most people are not aggressive enough in thinning out branches.


Now prune your tree for shape and size. Step back and look at your tree, and know what it’s natural shape should be. For instance, is it a weeping tree, or a graceful vase shape? Make sure you remove branches that are interfering with the shape you want your tree to take. Step back after every cut and re-evaluate. Try to remove most of your branches at the trunk, but if you need to shorten a branch, don’t cut it in the middle… make your cut a quarter inch above a bud.


How to Prune Fruit Trees

How To Prune Trees & When To Prune Trees

Pruning fruit trees is slightly different in that the main purpose is to encourage stronger growth of the fruit itself, not size of the tree. This involves creating a more compact tree and only leaving the strongest branches, which results in large and more flavorful fruit.

According to Dr. Lee Reich, author of “Landscaping with Fruits”, “You need to make thinning cuts and heading cuts—to keep the center of the tree open and to stimulate new growth for the following year. And in general you need to cut more than you probably think you should.”


Cat Tossing Method!

Also suggested by Dr. Reich is a good visual tool for deciding whether you have thinned your fruit trees far enough…another place most people are not aggressive enough. He calls it his “cat tossing method”. Yes, I find this disturbing, but it’s a good visual… He says if when you are finished pruning, you could toss a cat through the branches, you’ve done enough. Not the analogy I would use, and I’m torn between laughing at the craziness of it, and feeling really disturbed. But there you are, one of the leading authorities on pruning. How about this, he offers an alternative for those of us a bit sensitive… If a large bird can fly through the branches, you are good. Why didn’t you just say that in the first place, Dr. Reich? :) His basic rule for thinning fruit on apple and peach trees is that for every 20 blossoms, only one should remain. Yep, that aggressive.

So prune your trees at the right time, with the right technique. It will improve their curb appeal, their flowering and fruiting, and their health. It’s not hard, just take it one cut at a time!

How To Prune Trees & When To Prune Trees

Hope you found this post on how to prune trees informative! You might want to check out our post on how to prune roses!


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  1. Taylor Hansen October 15, 2020 at 10:18 am

    It’s interesting to learn that it’s okay to prune out dead branches at any time of the year. I have some dead branches on my tree and I want to cut it back but it’s too tall. Looks like I should hire a tree trimming service that can get all those branches on my tree.

  2. Perfect Plants Nursery January 16, 2019 at 3:51 pm

    It is almost time to prune the plants and trees here in Florida. Thanks for sharing these tips

  3. V Reza February 1, 2018 at 9:15 pm

    This is such a great post. While some pruning/trimming jobs can be small, a big pruning project typically requires a legitimate company and their services. I’m a total DIY-er but make sure to hire a company that’s reputable for your bigger jobs!

  4. James December 6, 2016 at 10:16 pm

    We had a friend who recently cut down a beautiful mulberry tree because they were informed by a neighbour that the roots of the trees can get under the foundations and into pipes and destroy them. Little did they know it is only fruitless Californian Mulberry Trees that do this and they had cut the tree down before I managed to tell them.

    Such a shame

  5. Silas Knight August 11, 2016 at 10:07 am

    Who knew that pruning trees had so much science behind it? I had no idea that it was alright to prune fruit trees after they have already began to flower. It makes sense though, since then you can tell which branches have died.

  6. Jo Ann Narciso July 19, 2016 at 8:53 am

    I have a second year in the ground Nyssa sylvatica (Tupelo gum, a native here in zone 7b). I know better than this and had been slowly pruning up the branches as it grew. Obviously, it has to be walked under someday. The largest diameter side branch was a bit up the main stem and I thought it best to prune this ASAP. Now, it seems that I have pruned over 50% of the branches off leaving such a tiny bit on the top ….
    Somehow I think my tree will be fine. However, there must be a rule as to what percentage of a tree to prune in one season. Approximately what might this be?

    1. Kathy Woodard September 8, 2016 at 12:31 pm

      Usually it’s one third of any plant, but a healthy plant can take a more vigorous pruning, I think it should do fine!

  7. Lawrence Rodriguez January 19, 2016 at 1:02 pm

    I have this tree in my front yard, and I want to make sure I take proper care of it! The only problem though, is that I have no idea how to prune it. That being the case, I really appreciate you giving me some insight about this and letting me know when, and how to prune it. I’ll be sure to follow your insight and hopefully I do it right.

  8. Delores Lyon April 8, 2015 at 4:38 pm

    Thanks for sharing this advice on making sure that your trees are pruned correctly. It really is important to make the right angles of cuts, especially if you have fruit trees. If you don’t then you risk killing the tree that you are trying to help. And at that point, you would have to hire a company to remove the tree!

  9. Sheeva January 21, 2015 at 4:54 am

    I planted a small gingko tree in it’s current location specifically because this species is slow growing. However, due to changes in the property line I need to move it but it has grown a few feet – it’s about 8 to 10 feet tall now. Can it be moved without killing it and how best to do so? I was told it couldn’t but I have hope.

    1. Kathy Woodard January 22, 2015 at 8:34 am

      I understand Gingko trees do not like to be moved…and at that height I would assume it has a pretty deep root system by now… has any of our readers had luck?

  10. LSS November 10, 2014 at 2:21 pm

    I see that you show pruning a fruit tree while it’s blossoming. Is there any other time appropriate for cutting back? My peach tree has gotten very tall. Thanks!

  11. Cassie Phillips November 9, 2014 at 11:33 am

    We are in the North Idaho Panhandle and our Sweetheart Cherry tree was planted 6 years ago. I’ve never trimmed it. Last year we had our largest crop: about 30 cherries! It’s shaped kind of like a “Y” on it’s own. Since it doesn’t really have many branches, I’m a bit scared of stopping it’s fruitfulness all together. Any suggestions? I can send you a photo via email if you’d like. ALSO, a Pacific Sunset Maple that we planted about 5 years ago had a growth spurt this summer and now has a long, straight, 6-7 foot branch reaching to the sky. It is that much taller than the rest of the little tree. Can I chop that off after the Winter cold is passed?
    Thanks for any help you can give. Cassie P

  12. Lisa H November 9, 2014 at 8:40 am

    This is a great review of what I learned in our master garden course here in Phoenix. Our fall has been so warm that my apple tree is already blossoming! Thanks for your informative post.

  13. kelly November 8, 2014 at 10:25 pm

    How to care for a cherry tree with holes in leaves,

  14. James Howard June 28, 2014 at 7:16 pm

    Hello, I have 2 Crape Myrtles in my back yard and have had them for several years. They have done quite well and are now more like trees!, standing 20 + feet tall. I need to groom them in a way that will keep the color and yet not be intrusive When do I prune and should I shorten them by pruning the tops? “Lost in Tenn”

    1. Kathy Woodard July 7, 2014 at 1:07 pm

      Hi James! Unfortunately, we can’t grow them here where we live, but I found a good reference for you!www.finegardening.com/pruning-crape-myrtles

  15. Roni Cox April 21, 2014 at 12:51 pm

    I have a question-I recently planted apple, peach and cherry trees-one almond which looks dead. Some of the tree trunks have little blossom’s coming directly off the trunks with no branch, do I leave these alone? And, what about the almond, it has black looking nubs that may have been blossom’s?

    1. Kathy Woodard April 21, 2014 at 2:49 pm

      Hi Roni, Those don’t sound like anything to concern yourself with, unless the black nubs change you should be fine leaving them be!


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