Last Updated: 05 October 2012

How you get it done: Tree pruning

There are several reasons for pruning a tree. It may have grown too big, you may want to reshape it, or it may be time to remove old and weak branches. The branches should not be too close together, or all on the same level, or grow in towards the stem.

Prune trees regularly by making small adjustments when they are young (one to two years old). That way you can avoid bigger, more risky measures later.


The only correct way to prune a tree is to cut just outside the branch collar. If you cut too close to the stem, it is left unprotected and the tree may have a wound that is slow to heal and vulnerable to fungal decay.

If you leave too much of the branch, decay may gain such a strong foothold in the stump that it breaks through the protective zone of the collar and into the stem.

Need to remove a large and heavy branch from your tree? If so, do it in stages so that the branch does not break and damage the collar.

When to prune?

From the tree’s point of view it is best to prune during the growing season, from July to September. The tree recovers quickly then, and just a couple of months after pruning a branch the edges of the scar will be covered with new wood. This reduces the risk of infection and disease considerably.

The worst time to prune a tree is in spring, from the time the first buds appear until the leaves are fully grown. This is when the tree collects much of its energy reserves, and all damage puts it under stress. A weak tree can be lost by pruning at this time of year.

Apple and pear trees are the only exceptions from this rule. To get the biggest harvest you should prune them in early spring. You should primarily remove damaged, in-growing and intersecting branches, and make sure that the crown lets in plenty of sunlight.


Pruning the stem of a tree that has grown too big is not a good solution, although it is often done. The wood at the end of the cut branch or stem becomes waterlogged and vulnerable to fungal attack, and the tree will never regain its original form.

New growth is very rapid on a pollarded tree, and after a couple of years the tree will be just as big, but much uglier.

If you have to cut the stem, don’t cut it horizontally. This increases the risk of disease. Cut it close to a large crown branch and follow the vertical line of the branch.


When trees are young the best and most accurate way of pruning them is to use secateurs, preferably double-edged, to avoid crushing branches.

When branches are a little thicker you can use a hand saw, which gives rather more precise results than a chainsaw. Use a bow saw if possible – not your old tenon saw!

A chainsaw is the tool of choice for larger tasks. Remember that a pole saw is a good alternative or addition in many cases. The length of the pole saw allows much of the work to be done from the ground, giving you a good overview and less risk to your safety.

Products for tree pruning, including pole pruner attachment for trimmer

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