Pruning Trees: How To Prune Successfully

Last updated on October 23rd, 2023 at 08:53 pm

Pruning is rarely necessary, but when it is, it should be done professionally. Although there are mountains of technical literature on pruning trees, we’ve collected simple tips to help you easily get your home trees back in shape and keep them healthy.

Why Should You Prune Trees?

Pruning trees ensures that enough oxygen and light reach the plant, preventing fungal infections. Pruning also promotes the growth of thick and stable branches. In this way, the tree grows in a controlled manner and forms a beautiful crown.

Pruning Trees: How To Prune Successfully

Rotten, diseased and dead branches are breeding grounds for disease and threaten to break off on their own. In older trees, the crown tends to become too dense, too tall or too wide, which can bring about high humidity in your garden’s microclimate. The result: dense moss growth on the trunk and branches.

Also, if a tree is casting too much shade or branches are growing against the wall of your house, you should prune.

Tree Pruning Due To Traffic Safety Obligation

Property owners must prevent potential hazards that may come from their trees. Therefore, they are obligated, for example, to remove dead branches, pay attention to the stability of the trees and, if in doubt, consult an arborist. Remove any branches that could potentially pose a danger to others, such as those projecting onto roads or paths.

When Should You Trim Trees?

When considering when to prune your trees, the time of year plays an important role. While tree pruning can be done year-round, it is especially appropriate in the summer, fall or late winter.

Pruning in summer makes sense, as wounds generally heal better then. The warm season is the right time to thin out crowns, removing vertical water shoots. The faster healing process is especially beneficial to thick branches or trees such as the ornamental cherry, whose wounds are usually slow to heal.

However, from August until the time of discoloration, you should not prune, because at this time the trees shift important nutrients from the leaves to the roots. If you cut off too much foliage, it will weaken the tree.

Fall is a good time to prune trees because the trees are free of leaves and you can better see the shape of the tree’s crown and individual branches.

In late winter, from January to early March, trees such as globe trees or stone, pome and berry fruit, in particular, tolerate pruning better because they are full to the brim with reserve material. If you prune trees in winter, choose a dry and frost-free day.

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When Should You Prune “Bleeding” Trees?

After pruning or when bark is injured, trees such as birch, walnut and maple will ooze a fluid consisting of dissolved sugars, amino acids and minerals. If this is the case, it is referred to as a “bleeding tree.” It is best to prune bleeding trees immediately after leaf emergence in spring, because at the beginning of vegetation, wound closure is also ↓ good: the tree is in full growth mode and can respond better to injuries.

Pruning Trees Correctly: Topiary And Maintenance Pruning.

Not all tree pruning is the same, and the tree rarely needs to be radically pruned back. Topiary and maintenance pruning will make the tree look nicer, grow healthier and bear more fruit.


If your tree has a lot of side shoots on the trunk, you can expose them by pruning. The tree will then look less bulky and you will make room for a path or a comfortable seat. Cut the branches to about head height, but pay attention to the proportions of the tree. If the relationship between the trunk and the volume of the crown does not seem harmonious to you, you should also thin out part of the crown.

Pruning For Pruning More Fruits

By pruning fruit trees, you not only ensure that they have a beautiful shape, but more importantly, that they produce abundant flowers and therefore fruit. Healthy growth also results in high fruit quality. For tips on how to prune fruit trees, see our guide on the subject.

Pruning Trees: How To Prune Successfully

Tips & Tricks For Proper Tree Pruning.

Trees are not as forgiving of pruning mistakes as perennials or vigorous ornamental shrubs. Incorrectly cut, thicker branches can tear a piece of bark off the trunk and seriously injure the tree. With our tips and the right tools, you can prune your trees properly and gently.

Caution: When working on a tree, be sure to secure the work area so that no humans or animals can enter the area of falling branches and twigs. Also, never work with a chainsaw at head height, overhead, or on a ladder.

Do Not Leave Any Branch Stubs

Make sure that you cut branches on trunks or side shoots cleanly at the branch collar so that no branch stubs (so-called hat hooks or clothes hooks) remain. These no longer sprout, dry up, and even very clean cuts heal poorly. Over time, the branch stubs dry out, they can rot in the worst case and the rot can spread in the healthy wood.

Cut To Outside Eye

The buds of a tree, the thickenings on the branches, are also called dormant eyes. They are activated by pruning and then sprout. The bud closest to the cut will sprout the most – and often in the direction it is facing. In this way, you can direct the direction of sprouting and encourage the formation of side shoots. Cut the branch at a slight angle a few millimeters above an eye. If you cut too close to an eye, the bud will dry out. If, on the other hand, a cone remains, it dries up and develops into a miniature hook.

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Removing Water Shoots

Water shoots, also known as geile shoots or waterbuds, are very dense shoots that grow straight up and are particularly common on fruit trees. A crown that is overgrown with water shoots will be shaded and will have a harder time drying after a rain. Cut the shoots close to the base. If the waterbushes are still thin, you can tear them off.

Trimming Tree Crowns

To reduce crowns, thin them out – pruning tree crowns is best done with loppers or a saw. Don’t just keep the crown in shape, trim it so it grows loosely. Remove shoots that grow inward and too steeply upward. If branches lie on top of each other or interfere with each other, you should saw off the excess branches. However, never remove more than a maximum of a quarter of a live crown at a time, and only cut branches more than 10 centimeters in diameter with very good reason, as this is a significant interference with the growth of the tree.

Butting Off

Cut whole branches directly off the nearest side branch or, alternatively, over a branching side branch growing in a suitable direction. This takes over the function of the cut branch and should be a good third as thick as the one you cut off. In this way, the crown becomes smaller but retains its natural growth habit.

Pruning Branches And Side Shoots To Astringent

The bulging thickening between the branch base and the trunk is called the astring. The astring plays a central role in wound healing. Therefore, you should always cut branches and twigs on astring, that is, not directly on the trunk. At this heavily loaded point, the branch also has the task of providing the necessary stabilization and consequently must not be injured.

Apply the saw from above and cut the branch quickly at a slightly oblique angle away from the trunk.

Trimming High Branches

When cutting high in the tree, it is important that you hook the working tool, for example a STIHL High Pruner HTA 50, to the carrying strap. This secures the tool and prevents it from falling. Of course, the same pruning rules apply as when pruning in the lower part of the tree.

Never work under a branch. When you have sawn off a branch, first clear it out of the way before continuing to work.

Cut Thicker Branches In Several Steps

You should cut off thick branches with a diameter of more than 4 or 5 centimeters in several steps, because their weight often tears a bark tongue out of the trunk when they fall, damaging it. Therefore, proceed in four simple steps:

Hold the branch firmly and first saw it about 20 centimeters from the trunk from the bottom approximately to the middle. If a branch is too long to hold, cut it even further away from the trunk for the time being to make it more manageable.

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Now set the saw from above a few centimeters to the left or right of the lower cut and keep sawing until the branch breaks off. The bark will now not tear all the way to the trunk, but only to the cut made from below. For very long branches, repeat this step a few times and saw off the branch piece by piece. This will give you more control.

Saw off the remaining branch stump close along the branch ring from top to bottom in one stroke. Set the saw at a slight angle away from the trunk and support the stump with one hand while sawing so that it is cut off cleanly and does not bend downward. Additionally, cut a very thick stump short from the bottom. This way you can be sure that nothing will tear out.

Now smooth the cut surface with a sharp knife so that the bark is not frayed. Sharp saws leave such smooth surfaces that the tree wound closure is not necessary.

Wound Sealing For The Tree

If you are working with a sharp blade, you usually do not need to seal the cut wound additionally after pruning. Clean wounds will heal on their own. If the cut has become unclean, smooth the ragged edge with a sharp knife.

Disposing Of Tree Prunings

After a tree trimming, you will have some prunings and yard waste to dispose of. You can cut up the tree trimmings and turn them into firewood or process them in a chipper to make valuable mulch or compost material. You can also still use longer, shapely branches as supports, climbing aids or as natural bed borders.

Pruning is part of caring for your trees. With our tips, tree care is easy and you can keep your trees healthy. Because even though trees are extremely low-maintenance plants, they need a little support.


  • James Jones

    Meet James Jones, a passionate gardening writer whose words bloom with the wisdom of an experienced horticulturist. With a deep-rooted love for all things green, James has dedicated his life to sharing the art and science of gardening with the world. James's words have found their way into countless publications, and his gardening insights have inspired a new generation of green thumbs. His commitment to sustainability and environmental stewardship shines through in every article he crafts.

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