There are many different reasons why a tree may need to be pruned. Some reasons to prune trees include improving appearance, removing branches that obstruct pathways, and promoting new growth. Most quality tree nurseries prune their trees in a way that allows the homeowner to not have to prune trees for many years, if ever.
When purchasing a tree, it is important to look at the shape of the tree in order to determine whether or not the tree will need heavy pruning in the future. However, if you are planting a small tree, or even growing one from seed, you will need to prune your tree to avoid overlapping branches and to allow good airflow.
If you decide to undertake the task of tree pruning yourself, you need to make sure that you follow the “3-cut method” for each branch. The 3-cut method was developed as a way to safely prune trees without damaging the branch collar (the lower portion of the area where the branch swells as it meets the trunk of the tree). Damage to the branch collar can impact a trees ability to heal properly, which can allow disease and insects to move in and infect the tree.
For your first cut, you will want to go about 6-8″ out from the trunk of the tree. Place your sharp, tree pruning saw under the branch. Then, saw about 1/3 of the way through the branch. Do NOT cut all the way through the branch at this stage. This initial cut helps to unload some of the weight from the lower portion of the branch (Image Source: Morton Arboretum)
After you have cut about 1/3 through the underside of the branch, you will want to go about 2-3″ further from the trunk and place your saw on the top side of the branch. (Make sure that you are cutting further from the tree than where you did “Cut 1”). Use your sharp, tree pruning saw to cut straight down through the branch. As you get closer to the end of the cut, the branch should snap and fall off. (Image Source: Morton Arboretum)
After cut 2, your branch should look similar to the one shown in this photo. You should only have a small portion of branch left when you begin the final cut. Cut 3 is the most crucial cut, since the surface of the cut is where the tree will heal over. The final cut should NOT be made flush with the trunk. Your final cut should be about 2″ from the trunk of the tree (at the point where the branch swells as it meets the trunk of the tree). This will allow the tree to have a good amount of surface to heal over. (Image Source: Morton Arboretum)
If you followed the 3-cut method properly, your tree should look fairly similar to the one shown in the photo. (Image Source: Morton Arboretum)
Check out this upload of Matt’s coffee chat series where he shares his expertise on pruning trees, shrubs and perennials!