Tree pruning is pretty basic in concept, but actually fairly difficult in practice. There is a lot you need to take into consideration such as what branches to cut, where to cut them, and how much to take off per year and that’s before we get into other pruning techniques like the step cut and collar cut.

A lot of people worry their tree will die from incorrect pruning, but it’s fairly unlikely. If pruning is done properly it can greatly enhance the health of the tree as well as enhance the aesthetic curb appeal of your home.

Below are a few points you need to think about before you start.

dead tree from cutting the top off

Over-pruning a tree is one of the more common mistakes that a novice will make when they take the job themselves or hire an unskilled person for the project. Depending on the tree, over-pruning will not kill it, but it can destroy its structural integrity.

When you take a tree right back to its first-order branch or the trunk, the tree will begin sending out suckers that are not real branches, but are attached to the bark of the tree.

Over time these suckers grow into branches that are weakly attached to the tree and can fall easily during storms and heavy winds.

Will a tree die if you cut the top off?

We have entered a bit of a grey area in the realm of tree pruning as there is a pruning technique called pollarding. This is where the tops of small trees are cut off to allow sucker shoots to grow out of them. This is normally done on smaller flowering trees such as a crepe myrtle to enhance the flower output. This is something that needs to be done every year or two.

There are also cases such as when a tree has grown very tall and is nearing electrical lines or poses a threat to your property.

The reason we recommend avoiding topping a tree is it destroys the structure of the tree and you are left dealing with an endless supply of sucker shoots. It might be a cheap form of tree pruning initially, but it will cost you in the long run as you will need an arborist out every second year to control the sucker growth.

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Is a tree pruning sealer necessary?

Tree pruning sealer being applied

You may have come across several expert blogs and articles talking about the use of sealers after pruning.

Pruning sealers had been quite popular among home gardeners who use them to seal up pruning cuts with a putty or paint-type substance. These are usually petroleum-based and are applied to minimize the loss of sap around the cuts and aid in the healing process.

If you go by the latest research though, sealers can do more harm than good.

They hinder your trees’ natural healing process. Even though you are essentially closing the wound instantly with the sealer, the idea is the tree will grow over it, but in the long run, it actually takes the tree longer to heal and increases the rest of pests and disease taking hold.

They also harm your tree by trapping moisture around the cut. This can lead to the growth of fungi which can decay the wood over time.

Does a tree grow back after pruning?

One of the primary goals behind the pruning of trees is to make them flourish. By getting rid of some of the dead, crossing, and unwanted branches of a tree, you will help in improving the health of the tree and making its roots stronger by doing away with excess weight which can be a strain on the tree.

The speed of the regrowth would depend on a number of factors that include how the tree was pruned and the amount of pruning that was done. One of the common misconceptions that people have is that the branches grow back. The fact is once a branch has been pruned it won’t grow back from the same spot. The tree will however grow new branches on other areas of the tree.

Can you prune just one side of a tree?

In short, yes you can, but it is not something that is recommended, especially with large mature trees. One-sided pruning is often undertaken to get a clearance from a building or achieve the desired view from a room.

At times this is also done to prevent branches from overhanging into a neighbor’s property or over the adjacent roads.

However one sided pruning has many challenges and it can affect the structural strength of the trees.

A pine tree won’t be affected too much as there is not a lot of weight in the branches, but a large mature oak tree would be affected. If you removed 2 tons of branches from one side of the tree overnight, some heavy rain to soften the ground and a stiff wind would blow it over. Over time the tree will compensate by throwing out new roots to balance itself better, but in the short term, it is risky.

What is a good amount to prune off a tree?

You hear the “one-third rule” which is very popular and gets thrown around a lot, but nobody seems to be discussing time frames.

Removing 30% of your tree is fine, but you cannot do it every year. If you are planning on pruning yearly, then no more than 10-15% is recommended. Or go with a harsher prune of 30%, but wait 2 or 3 years before your next prune.

At the end of the day, the right amount to prune off a tree will also depend on the maturity of your tree and your motive for pruning. Do you want to reduce the overall size, thin it out to let me light through, or lift the canopy?

It is better to rely on the expertise of an arborist as they would closely examine your tree and take into account several factors before deciding how much and what needs to be pruned off your tree.

Does cutting off dead branches help?

Dead branches not only pose a grave danger to your life and property but they can also affect the health of a tree. Dead branches are ones where the tree has lost all its internal mechanism of growth and natural healing. You need to contract a tree pruning service every 2 – 3 years to remove dead branches for your health and the longevity of your trees.

Naturally, they become the breeding ground for infections, diseases, and pests. If they aren’t removed on time they can start affecting the healthy portion of your tree. Apart from improving the health of your tree, cutting off dead branches also helps in improving the appearance of your tree.

Author: Ben McInerney is a qualified arborist with over 15 years of industry experience. He uses his in-depth knowledge of the tree service industry to give readers to most accurate information on tree service costs and helps to educate them about the benefits of using a certified arborist for tree trimming and removal work.