Tree Trimming 101

By Beth Krietsch

Best handled in late winter, tree trimming keeps your trees healthy and your landscape in top shape. Learn how to safely and effectively prune your trees and implement the best tree trimming practices.

Is tree trimming necessary?

Tree trimming is necessary to prevent old or weak branches from falling and causing injury or damaging property. Here are a few reasons why you should trim your trees each winter.

  • Safety—By removing broken and dead tree limbs before they fall, you avoid the potential for injury—either to yourself or a passerby. You also prevent tree limbs from falling and damaging your car or house. If you notice a dead tree branch at any time of year, cut it down or have it removed.
  • Appearance—Another reason to trim your trees is to keep them looking beautiful. A good rule of thumb is to trim trees according to their natural shape rather than trimming them to grow in an unnatural shape or form.
  • Tree Health—When done right, trimming a tree to remove diseased or dead limbs is an effective way to keep your trees healthy. Annual tree trimming encourages proper growth and allows trees to maintain a strong structure. Even removing a few leaves and smaller branches can improve tree health by allowing more air and sunlight to filter through.

When is the best time for tree trimming?

The best time to take on this task is in the late winter or early spring, after the coldest days have passed and just before new buds are about to form. However, you don’t want to trim your trees when the weather is extremely cold.

If you prune in the fall, tree growth is stimulated, which might not be ideal before the harsh, winter months. Fungi also tends to spread more frequently in the fall, negatively affecting tree health after the pruning or trimming process.

Additionally, it’s not a great idea to prune your trees when it’s raining or damp since moisture can breed bacteria and disease. For the best results, wait until the sun is shining and tree branches are dry.

What to remove during the tree trimming process

When pruning or trimming a tree, it’s safe to remove the following branches:

  • Branches that cross and intersect
  • Low branches that get in the way of walking
  • Branches that block windows and light
  • Branches that block intersections or interfere with street signs
  • Branches that block or obscure your home’s entryway

Tree trimming safety tips

Since tree trimming can be dangerous, here are a few safety tips to keep you out of harm’s way during the process.

  • If branches have fallen on a power line or if your pruning requires you to work in close proximity to power lines, call in professional help.
  • If a tree branch is greater than 4 inches in diameter, it may be more difficult to remove. Call in an expert if this is the case.
  • Any time you feel uncomfortable when trimming a tree, call in an arborist or other tree trimming professional. Ask neighbors and other locals for a recommendation and research different tree trimming services online. Many companies will offer free estimates before helping you out.

How to: tree trimming

Before trimming a tree, gather the necessary tools and make sure all supplies are clean and sharp. Rinsing them with warm water and soap and rubbing them with a good oil stone (for sharpness) should do the trick.


  • Pruning or lopping shears
  • Small chainsaw
  • Hand saw
  • Chisel or sharp knife
  • Gloves
  • Protective eyewear
  • Single-pole ladder or extension ladder
  1. Before beginning the tree trimming process, put on gloves and protective eyewear to prevent injury.
  2. Climb up a single-pole ladder or extension ladder to begin visual inspection of the tree limbs from the top of the tree. Make sure it’s planted firmly on the ground and stable against the tree. When trimming limbs, always work your way downward and make sure there’s nobody beneath you that could get hurt from falling debris.
  3. Before sawing off an entire tree limb, make a ¼-inch notch cut with a hand saw two to three feet away from the trunk (this keeps the bark from splitting during the next cut).
  4. Just outside the notch cut, use a hand saw or small chainsaw to make a relief cut completely through the branch. This removes the weight of the branch and helps you make the final cut without the branch splitting and falling.
  5. Next, identify the branch collar, or the area that grows from the stem tissue at the bottom base of the branch. Never cut into the branch collar—this part is responsible for forming scar tissue and healing the tree after the cut.
  6. Cut just outside the branch collar with a chainsaw and angle your cut downward and away from the stem. A good place to make your cut is just beyond the enlarged or swollen region where the tree trunk meets the branch.
  7. When pruning small tree branches, use pruning shears to cut about ¼ inch beyond a bud in order to encourage growth.
  8. If a broken branch leaves a stub or torn bark, remove it with a chisel or sharp knife to protect the health of the tree and prevent insects from entering.

DIY or Hire

When determining whether to perform tree trimming on your own or hire a professional, it comes down to price and safety.


  • Tree trimming on your own is free if you have all of the necessary tools; however, some pruning and lopping shears may cost up to $50
  • It's often faster to address a limb that needs to be trimmed yourself rather than scheduling an appointment with an arborist
  • It may be more dangerous and difficult to trim limbs longer than 4 inches in diameter


  • Professional tree trimming services will usually charge $250–$500 on average (the total cost will depend on the scope of the project)
  • An expert will safely and efficiently remove problem limbs during a scheduled appointment
  • Arborists and other tree trimming experts have experience trimming and pruning limbs of all different sizes

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