How to Prune a Tree to Keep It Small

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Pruning a tree is a delicate process, but it’s important for the purpose of curbing excessive growth. There is a variety of reasons why allowing a tree to grow wider and taller might not be the best plan for your garden; for example, it may end up crossing over property boundaries, overshadowing other trees, or getting too close to your home.

Follow these tips to get your tree pruning regime just right and keep your garden growing just as you expected it.

pruning a tree to keep it small

Source: cottonbro


Prune according to the time of year

Before you get out your pruning equipment and start tidying things up, it pays to do your research into the impact of things like seasonality. Tree growth, like so many natural processes, varies widely between summer and winter, and the pruning process itself also yields an entirely different result depending on the time of year.

In a nutshell, pruning trees and perennials in winter is the way to go if you want them to grow back strong in the spring, whereas pruning during the summer months will slow growth. This makes summer a great time for shaping; however, if tree health is your main priority, the dormant months in late fall and early winter will minimize sap loss and the likelihood of infestation by bugs. 


Identify the major branches and keep them safe

Every tree has a “skeleton” that gives it shape, and by removing these branches, you can have a dramatic impact on the appearance of the tree. When you look at the tree, you’ll be able to see the major branches grow directly outwards from the trunk, and avoid them accordingly.

By leaving these branches untouched, you’ll be helping the tree to preserve its natural shape and minimizing the damage that naturally results from pruning. 

Prune according to the time of year Source: Torsten Dettlaff


Prune branches to boost tree health 

Pruning branches might seem to be purely a decorative activity, but the truth is that there are several practical reasons to get your tools out. A damaged or broken branch is the first (and most obvious) reason for a snip – telltale signs include leafless branches, clinging dead leaves, fallen bark, or fungus.

These might seem fairly harmless, but what you may not realize is that these branches continue to absorb some of the tree’s nutrients rather than allowing them to be redistributed to the remaining healthy parts of the tree.

You’ll also want to remove branches that are inward-bound. Why? These lead to crowding and a reduced flow of oxygen around the branches, which can have a seriously negative impact on the overall health of the tree.

Essentially, the right trimming strategy will give your tree enough space and the necessary oxygen levels for an efficient respiration process.  


Clean your pruning equipment

When you’re out in nature, it’s only natural to embrace the existence of dirt, but dirty pruning equipment won’t do your trees any good. The biggest equipment-related problem you’ll face when pruning is a disease in the trees, as this can be easily spread by the same tools.

Fortunately, a simple cleaning regime for your tools is all you’ll need to prevent infections from spreading – just dip your tool of choice into a household cleaning agent like rubbing alcohol before moving from one tree to the next, or, if you’re working on a diseased tree, between cuts.

clean your pruning equipment

Source: Andrea Piacquadio

While you’re pruning, you should also be wary of high-sap plants – a common cause of rust – and clean your tools well after use. 

Now that you’re an expert on how to prune for the health of your trees, it’s important to take note of a few problematic mistakes routinely made by amateur gardeners. Avoid these impulses and your garden will thank you for it! 


Don’t prune to excess

When in doubt, the old saying “less is more” will save you from many tree pruning problems. Every time you prune, you open the tree’s immune system up to potential infection and infestation, so make sure you have a good reason to prune before taking the clippers to an unsuspecting tree.

When in doubt, remember this simple rule: the goal of pruning is to minimize defects without reducing the natural appeal of the plant


Don’t snip the tips too frequently

If you’re under the impression that snipping small sections off each of your plants will keep unwanted growth in check, it might be time to rethink your approach.

The truth is that more frequent snipping only stimulates extra growth, so if your goal is to keep your tree to a manageable size, you should trim greater lengths at less frequent intervals. 

avoid cutting healthy branches

Source: Anna Guerrero

Avoid cutting away healthy branches

Pruning your trees before you can call yourself a confident arborist comes with its fair share of risks, including the risk of taking out the wrong branches.

In case you struggle to tell the difference between a healthy branch and a diseased or dead one, you can check by simply shaking the branch or scraping its top layer.

A healthy branch will be flexible and green beneath the top wood layer, while brittleness and dryness often signify the opposite. 

Pruning a tree correctly requires a great deal of knowledge and care, and a pair of pruners in the hands of an enthusiastic amateur can do much more harm than good. Educating yourself on proper pruning practice is the first step towards growing a healthy, thriving garden you can be proud of.  

About the author

Sofia is a passionate writer from Sydney. She also enjoys decorating houses and engaging in home renovation projects. That is why she loves sharing her experience and advice with other people through her writing.
Besides this, she loves technology and gadgets which can help us get through a busy workday.