HTA Andrea pruningTips for Proper Pruning

  •  Never remove more than 1/4 of a tree’s crown in a season.
  • Where possible, try to encourage side branches that form angles that are 1/3 off vertical (10:00 or 2:00 positions). Branches at angles of 10:00 and 2:00 are often strongest. Side branches should have diameters less than 3/4 the diameter of the trunk.
  • For most species, the tree should have a single trunk, also called a central leader.
  • Ideally, main side branches should be at least 1/3 smaller than the diameter of the trunk. If removal of a main branch is necessary, cut it back to where it is attached to another large branch or the trunk. Do not truncate or leave a stub.
  • For most deciduous (broadleaf) trees, don’t prune up from the bottom any more than 1/3 of the tree’s total height.

How to Make a Proper Pruning Cut


Large Limbs:

The Three Cut Method
A. Make a partial cut from beneath.
B. Make a second cut from above several inches out and allow the limb to fall.
C. Complete the job with a final cut just outside the branch collar.

Small Branches:

Make a sharp clean cut, just beyond a lateral bud or other branch.


When to call a professional

Minor tree pruning on small trees can be easily done by a homeowner after some training. If the tree is large, needs a chainsaw or specialized equipment, and/or the tree has storm damage; contact a certified arborist. A good rule of thumb is if the pruning is above your head, contact a professional. Learn more about hiring a professional below or to find an arborist in your area see Tree Resources.


Pruning Tools

Hand pruners are useful for small branches, up to about 1/2-inch diameter. Use loppers or a saw for larger branches, or for species with hardwood. Long-handled loppers may be used to remove larger diameter branches, but precise cuts are more difficult to make. Curved blade pruning saws cut on the pull stroke. Newer blade designs are able to cut large and small diameter branches quickly and cleanly. Chainsaws are not recommended for pruning except by those trained in their safe, correct operation for tree work. Consider hiring a professional arborist for jobs involving larger limbs.


How to Hire an Arborist

An arborist is a specialist in the care of individual trees. Arborists are knowledgeable about the needs of trees, and they are trained and equipped to provide proper care.

  • Make sure they are part of an established business in the community or nearby area with a listing in the phone book, usually under “Tree Service.” Look for “certified arborist” or other indication of professional certification (see 4. below).
  • Hiring an arborist is a decision that should not be taken lightly; tree work should be done only by those trained and equipped to work on trees in a manner that is safe both for them and for the trees. Have them provide you with evidence they are actually working for the company, rather than moonlighting.
  • Ask for current certificates of insurance showing they are fully insured for property damage, personal liability and worker compensation.
  • Ideally, they should be members of a professional association of arborists such as the Kansas Arborist Association (KAA), the International Society of Arboriculture, the Tree Care Industry Association, or the American Society of Consulting Arborists (ASCA). Ask for proof of certification before any work is started.
  • Arborists who have received certification from their professional associations, such as ISA Certified Arborists, will have received training and access to current technical information on tree care, repair and removal. They will also carry membership cards to show their certification.
  • Get at least three estimates to ensure the price offered is competitive with that offered by others for the same services.
  • In case of tree removals, have a clear understanding about who removes the limbs and debris from the property and whether or not the price includes stump removal and clean up.
  • Check to see if the estimate has considered the possible value your tree will have as firewood or chips, either to yourself or if sold to others.
  • Do not hire contractors who go door to door. A professional tree care company typically does not do business by knocking on doors.
  • ABOVE ALL – do not respond to pressure tactics! Be a good consumer. Do your research and hire good contractors
  • Check out the Tree Resources page to find certified arborists in your area.



Content provided by the City of Stillwater’s Forestry Coordinator, Carrie Tomlinson;  National Arbor Day Foundation