Row of dogwoods pruned by a professional arborist | example of good tree pruning

Best Practices for Tree Pruning & Shaping

With many years in business, we have experienced everything when it comes to tree shaping and tree pruning. Pruning trees is like trimming hair – easy to mess up and hard to fix! It’s an important task to be approached with a plan and with an understanding of how trees grow.

Some trees/shrubs can be cut back 30% every season, while others are much more sensitive to the amount and timing of the pruning. Here are some of the reasons behind best practices for tree pruning and shaping:

Why do tree pruning?

Not every tree needs to be pruned. It’s typically those trees within a residential or commercial landscape that benefit most from pruning. Here’s why:

  • It helps trees stay healthy by removing dead, or damaged branches and any diseased wood
  • It allows an arborist to remove any crowded, rubbing branches that leave the tree exposed to pests and disease
  • Renewal – it concentrates the energy of the tree into fewer branches which increases vigor and health
  • Shaping – it helps maintain an aesthetically ideal and balanced shape
  • It increases blooming and fruit production


Timing is important.

The best time to prune is in late winter and early spring, when plants are dormant. Energy reserves are highest during this time and the tree can sustain pruning well. Pruning during the summer should be limited to height reductions and increasing shrub density. However, flowering trees and shrubs can be pruned immediately following flowering (azaleas, forsythias, plums, cherries, crabapples, oak life hydrangea).


Proper Tree Pruning Techniques

Experienced tree specialists and arborists will assess and use these methods below when pruning trees.

  • Determine a strategy. The appropriate timing and strategy for tree/shrub pruning depends on what category it falls in: spring-flowering shrubs, spring-flowering trees, summer-flowering trees and shrubs, evergreen trees and shrubs, and groundcovers and vines
  • Determine the technique. Tree pruning techniques an arborist may use: crown cleaning, crown thinning, crown raising
  • Expert arborists use a method of cutting A, B, and C limbs to help develop a tree’s shape and strength
  • First, remove all dead and damaged branches
  • Remove any branches that are rubbing together
  • Be cautious to not damage bark, as it leaves the tree exposed to pests and disease
  • Make cuts just outside the swollen branch collar so promote “wound healing” on that part of the limb
  • Cut to allow the tree to produce buds. Avoid cutting too close or too far from the next bud on the limb. When removing a branch entirely, make a clean cut close to the main stem.
  • Cut at a 90-degree angle to the limb. Avoid cuts that are too angled.


A word of caution:

Improper tree pruning can kill or cause irreparable damage to the tree. In general, homeowners can safely prune branches on trees that can be shaped from the ground. We never recommend people climb a ladder with a chainsaw or any other dangerous equipment to cut limbs.


Consider calling a professional arborist.

The ISA (International Society of Arboriculture) requires professional arborists to demonstrate three years of experience and passed written tests on pruning, tree diagnosis, tree biology, and safety. A certified arborist can help identify the best strategy for pruning and maintaining the tree for optimum structure, health, and aesthetics.


We are certified and licensed arborists and would be happy to take a look at any tree pruning or tree shaping projects you have in mind. We also provide free tree assessments while on site to review and answer any questions you have about the trees on your property.


Call us today to schedule your free appointment, or fill out a quote request form!

Best Practices for Tree Pruning and Shaping