tree pruning

Pruning Large Trees

Large trees are often difficult and dangerous to work on. For example, it can be hard to get a ladder close enough or require extensive climbing up the tree with ropes and hooks. However, there are many different ways that you can get your trees trimmed without having to go through all of this trouble.  

One way is by using the step-ladder method, which involves cutting the branches at their base where they meet the trunk instead of just trimming them off somewhere from above.

The second way is by using pole saws, these devices let you cut high in a tree without any danger of falling out or getting stuck in some precarious position halfway up the tree’s height. This post will cover how each method works and what tools you’ll need for each one.

Pruning large trees is a process that only an experienced arborist should take on. They must be able to assess the health of the tree and determine where it needs pruned, for instance, near-dead branches or those growing too close together. 

If not done correctly, the process can also have negative consequences, such as weakening the tree’s structure. So before you attempt to do this yourself, make sure you know what you are doing and have an experienced professional help!

It Is Important To Understand First Why You Need To Prune Trees

Prune for tree health, which involves removing dead, broken or diseased branches. Opening up the crown by thinning will increase air circulation and allow sunlight in. Prune for strong structure, removing branches that cross or touch each other.

Prune for safety, including keeping limbs clear of power lines and limbs that block the view when entering or exiting a driveway. But also to allow clearance where necessary for mowing, trimming or just passing under.

Prune to improve or enhance the form or character of the tree or to increase flower production. Never prune just because you think you should.  Most trees will develop a pleasant natural form on their own. However, dead, broken or diseased branches should definitely be pruned for the health of the tree.  

Otherwise be cautious or call a professional.  Small branches easily removed with a lopper or pruning saw you need not worry about.  Larger branches that require more serious equipment require more serious thought.

Just as important is when you should prune your trees. Prune trees when dormant after the leaves have fallen so you can easily see the structure.Prune trees when dormant to reduce sap flow and disease, and insect exposure. Prune trees that flower in early spring immediately after flowering as flower buds are formed the season prior to the bloom.Prune trees that flower in summer or fall when dormant, as flower buds are formed on spring growth.

Although pruning a shade tree need not be complicated, it does require thoughtful assessment.  It may also require a professional with professional equipment.  Climbing a tree with large sharp tools or a chain saw or operating a saw on a tall ladder is not safe for the inexperienced. However, if your tree is not too large and you decide to tackle the pruning yourself, well-maintained equipment and sharp, clean tools are a must.

Trees with a pyramid form typically have one strong central leader.  Trees with a more rounded form often have lateral branches that will compete with the central leader for dominance.  The rounded crowns are most often the ones that require pruning to maintain the strong central leader and strong uniform branching.

Before cutting, or the final cut in-branch removal, locate the branch collar.  This is where the branch joins either the main trunk or a primary lateral branch.  The collar is sometimes quite evident as a defined ridge all the way around the joint.  

Sometimes it is not much more than a ridge in the bark.  Your final removal cut should be just outside that collar or ridge, angling down and away from the tree.  The natural tendency to cut a branch flush with the trunk or adjoining branch is common and removes the branch collar.  

A final cut inside the collar can prohibit proper healing, cause a weak structure and unnatural growth, such as water sprouting as shown at left.  Cutting too far outside the collar will cause branch dieback, the decay inviting problems.

Large branches need to be removed, making three separate cuts.  If you try to remove a heavy branch in a single cut, the branch’s weight will pull it down before you finish, tearing the bark (not to mention pinching and trapping your chain saw, a difficult predicament to get out of).

So first, cut a notch on the underside of the branch outside of the branch collar.  The next cut should be clear through the branch but outside of the notch.  Now you have a small manageable stump to remove between the collar and the first notch. 

Pruning for health and strong structure:  Thinning the Crown


Thinning the crown of the tree can improve the strength and structure of the tree as well as allow air and sun access to the central limbs of the tree.  Begin by removing all branches that cross each other or touch each other. 

The branches should be removed at the point that it attaches to another branch, which is a node and paying close attention to branch collars as mentioned.  Sometimes that is enough, and if you are pruning in the dormant season, you can clearly see the branch structure to evaluate properly. However, if additional pruning seems necessary, remember that you should never remove more than 25 percent of the crown in one season.  

Next, you should select branches that grow either strongly upward or strongly downward. Finally, select a few branches to remove spaced throughout the crown.  Lateral branches should be somewhat evenly spaced along the trunk.  

Examine the union at the base of the branch.  A strong union forms a U shape, a weaker union is more closed, forming a V or the reverse a very wide union.  This does NOT mean that every weak union should be removed! Instead, select branches to remove with a weak union, but bear in mind that some species naturally grow with weaker V-shaped unions.

In that case, evaluate the overall structure, then err toward the weakest unions. Remember that it is better to remove too little than too much.  Evaluate the work in the next growing season, and you can remove additional branches next dormant season if necessary.

Pruning for Safety:  Raising the Crown

Trees along the street or sidewalk may need to be pruned to allow pedestrian traffic to pass underneath and to clear sightlines for traffic.  Trees in the landscape may also need to be pruned to allow passage for mowing, trimming or just passing through the lawn.  

Simply remove all branches outside the branch collar where they join the trunk up to a comfortable level for pedestrians to pass.  Never remove more than one third the height of the crown in one season. Then, again, more can be removed in the next dormant season if necessary.

Pruning for Safety:  Reducing the Crown

Poor planning may result in a tree growing into overhead power lines.  Trees are often “topped” (simply sheared straight across the top) to relieve the situation, causing unnatural regrowth and unsightly form.  Likewise, the random reduction of branch length midway can cause water sprouting, as seen at right. 

Instead, remove the tallest sections of the crown from the interior at a level substantially lower than the required high point. Next, select a “cluster” of branches to be removed and find its main joint to the tree.  The lateral branch that will remain should be at least one third the diameter of the branch you remove.  

This will generally be a too large section to handle in one cut and should be removed in manageable portions until the selected joint is reached.  Use the 3 step cutting method to make this final removal also.  

Lateral outward facing branches can remain to help balance the crown structure.  Although this example is still quite severe, the idea is clearly illustrated.  And the tree retains a somewhat more natural form and grows stronger and healthier.

When Is The Best Time To Prune Trees?

After months of looking at branches and limbs stripped down to their bare bones, the rich, bright tones of spring’s bloom are a wonderful welcome to the new season.  But, underneath the striking spring scene, you’ll want to make sure your trees have a healthy base.

Our arborists often get asked this question: When should we have our trees trimmed? Unfortunately, the answer is not always as straightforward as we’d like, so we’ve compiled a helpful guide to try and answer this question once and for all. 

When thinking about pruning, our arborists need to be mindful of the type of tree we’re talking about and a number of other factors like the impact of insects, the trees’ susceptibility to disease, and the surrounding landscaping. 

Generally, the best time to prune or trim trees and shrubs is during the winter months. From November through March, most trees are dormant, which makes it the ideal time for the following reasons:

  • Trees are less susceptible to insects or disease.
  • There is less impact on the surrounding landscape, and our crew can easily see what they’re doing while all the leaves are gone. 
  • Trees heal faster, meaning that by the time spring rolls around, your tree will be happy and healthy again.

Oh, and one more big reason that winter is better for pruning trees: You save more money! It is a simple fact that you’ll save more money when you book your tree pruning and removal early (like today). So don’t wait until the last minute and be disappointed.

Knowing when to trim trees keeps them healthy in the long term while setting them up for a season of robust growth. Below we’re answering your most common questions about when to trim, or prune, your trees.

When Is The Best Time To Prune Trees? 

Sometimes between the changing leaves in fall and flower blooms in spring, your trees need a trim. However, anytime between late fall and early spring is best for tree trimming or pruning.

Talk to your local arborist about pruning before spring blooms emerge. Typically a tree’s pruning cycle is 3 to 5 years, but type, size, and health play a role in the cycle that will work best for your tree. 

Why Is Late Fall Through Early Spring Best For Tree Pruning?

In fall and winter, trees enter a dormant stage, halting their growth. This inactivity, along with dropping temperatures, creates an ideal setting for pruning. If you prune after new growth has started, you can limit the plant’s bloom potential for the year.

In winter, a harder ground gives arborists easy access to the tree, and the bare canopy makes branches easier to see and handle.

Pruning trees in the dormant season promotes the tree’s current health and sustains future tree growth. And even better, dormant pruning saves time and money by helping with disease management.

Tree Trimming Cost

Hiring a professional to trim just one tree can cost $80 to $1,000+, with $250 to $500 being the typical price range for tree trimming. If the trimming is straightforward, you could be quoted $80 for a small tree under 25 feet tall, or $175 for a medium-sized tree 25 to 50 feet, and $300 to $1,000 for a big tree over 50 feet. 

Keep in mind that those prices cover a one-time service for just one tree. If you’ve got several trees around your house that need trimming, the bill will go up accordingly.

When calculating the costs of your tree trimming project, there are five essential things to keep in mind. First, your tree trimming cost estimate will reflect the following factors:

  • Size – The bigger a tree, the more branches that need trimming. That adds up to more labor and, therefore, more expense.
  • Location – Is your tree in a hard-to-reach spot? Is it near a power line? If that’s the case, you’ll likely be charged more because of the extra labor involved.
  • Accessibility – If a professional needs sufficient surrounding space to cut the tree, this will result in a higher cost.
  • Number of Trees – How many trees you need to trim will also impact the overall cost. More trees = higher price.
  • Health – Have diseases or pests caused the condition of the tree to deteriorate? If so, you’ll probably wind up paying more for tree-trimming service.

Reasons for Pruning


Pruning is a regular part of all tree and plant maintenance programs at Birch Tree Care. Proper pruning of plants encourages growth, improves the overall plant health, increases the curb appeal of your property, and increases flower and fruit production. 

Prune to increase the overall health of plant

  • Remove dead or dying branches injured by disease, insect infestation, animals, storms, or other damage.
  • Remove branches that rub together
  • Remove branch stubs

Maintain intended purposes for plants in a landscape

  • Encourage flower and fruit development
  • Maintain a dense hedge
  • Encourage the desired plant form or special garden forms

Improve the appearance of plants and overall curb appeal

  • Control plant size and shape
  • Keep shrubs well-proportioned and dense
  • Remove unwanted branches, waterspouts, suckers and undesirable fruiting structures that detract from plant appearance

Protect your family & property

  • Remove dead branches
  • Have hazardous trees taken down
  • Prune branches that overhang homes, parking areas, sidewalks, and any place that falling limbs could injure people or damage property
  • Eliminate branches that interfere with street lights, traffic signals or overhead wires and any branches that obscure vision at intersections

Pruning in late winter ensures that fresh wounds are only exposed for a short amount of time before new growth begins, which helps the wound from pruning begin to heal faster. In addition, pruning dormant plants can make decisions easier as there are fewer obstructions from leaves. Finally, to avoid certain diseases, pruning in the late winter is especially great. 

Avoid Oak Wilt disease by pruning oaks between November and March. You should never prune your oaks between April and October. Prune apple trees between February and late April. Spring or summer pruning increases the chances of infection spread, while fall or early winter pruning can result in growth issues the following season.

Honey Locusts should be pruned when they are dormant in late winter as it is best to prune in dry conditions. 

Prune after blooming. Trees and shrubs that bloom early in the growing season on last year’s growth should be pruned immediately after they finish blooming.

Prune before new growth. Shrubs that are grown primarily for their foliage rather than showy flowers should be pruned in the spring before growth begins. 

Hedges and shrubs. After the initial pruning that takes place at planting, hedges need to be pruned often. Typically hedges can be pruned twice a year, in spring and then again in mid-summer.

Evergreens. With few exceptions, evergreens (conifers) require little pruning. However, different types of evergreens should be pruned according to their varied growth habits.

Scroll to Top