Mistakes Homeowners Make When Trimming Their Trees

Doug Bedford July 1, 2021

Here at Red’s Tree Service, we have an expert team to provide tree trimming and selective pruning across Memphis and the Mid-South. Many times, we’re called in to fix someone’s well-meaning attempt at trimming trees. Though we commend a self-starting, can-do attitude, our expert team has seen more than their fair share of tree trimming mistakes from well-meaning homeowners. To help you get the most out of trimming your trees, we’ve put together our list of the 6 biggest mistakes homeowners make when trimming their trees, and what you can do to avoid them! Keep reading to learn more! 

Using dull tools

Just as the most dangerous knife is a dull one, dull tools can be dangerous for you and harmful to the tree. This is the most common mistake we see homeowners make, and it’s also one of the easiest to avoid. It’s as simple as keeping your tools in sharp, trim-ready condition so they can cut through branches and the like with ease. 

Not only can dull tools cause serious injuries to you and those around you, but they can harm the tree as well. Trimming a tree with dull blades creates rough wounds that your tree will have a harder time healing. You may accidentally damage the branch collar if you have to work hard and make several “chops” to cut through a branch.

If you plan on doing your own tree trimming, invest in a good pair of truly sharp shears, and have them sharpened once a year to keep them working well.

Trimming the wrong branches

Proper trimming takes a lot more than just snipping away random branches to change the shape of the tree. If you don’t pay close attention to and plan ahead for which branches you remove, you will weaken the tree, and its shape could become less appealing over time.

Start the trimming process by removing any dead or dying branches. Then remove branches that join the limb or trunk at weak, v-shaped angles. Try to remove thinner, smaller branches, leaving the thicker, more established branches to continue growing. 

Disregarding sanitation

As with most living things, trees are susceptible to a number of different infectious fungi and bacteria. These pathogens are easily spread from tree to tree during pruning if you do not properly sanitize your shears. 

Wipe your shears down with rubbing alcohol between trees, and let them dry completely before you begin trimming another tree.

Proper cleanup is another key component of good sanitation. Don’t let your trimmed branches and leaves sit on the ground beneath the tree, as they could become a harboring point for fungi and insects (and could cause injury to an unsuspecting pedestrian or cyclist). Dispose of the debris in a pile far away from any trees.

Trimming at the wrong time of year

There’s never really a bad time to remove dead, damaged, or diseased branches, but the required trimming frequency will vary across plant species. Spring-flowering trees should be trimmed immediately after their blooming cycle, usually during late June, while summer-flowering trees should be trimmed in the winter and spring months. 

Generally, most trees will benefit most from pruning in mid- to late winter. That’s because pruning during dormant periods encourages new growth as soon as the weather begins to warm up. The lack of leaves around this time also allows you to easily identify branches and limbs requiring removal.

While pruning trees in the summer isn’t a popular option, it can sometimes be beneficial if performed with caution. You should never prune in the fall, however. Pruning trees in the fall can introduce disease, and if you have a warm autumn, new growth can be seriously harmed when the temperatures drop again.

In general, pruning your trees in the spring can limit their bloom potential for the year. It can also leave cuts that leave trees more vulnerable to insect infestation or disease. That said, some tree pruning can safely be done in the spring! The rule of thumb is to not remove more than 10% of any tree’s branches. When it comes to spring pruning, your goal should be one of two things: pruning for safety OR minimal pruning for aesthetics. 

Of course, there are exceptions to every rule! If you’ve just planted a new tree, any broken, defective, or damaged limbs should be removed. Just remember that in general, pruning trees in the spring can leave them more vulnerable to infestation and diseases. 

6 Biggest Mistakes Homeowners Make When Trimming Their Trees

Not watching for potential property damage

Homeowners should regularly inspect their trees for potentially hazardous developments, including hanging dead limbs or sagging branches. However, be sure to also inspect the area around the hazards, to make sure that your freshly trimmed tree branch doesn’t smash your neighbor’s car or poke a hole in your roof. If property damage is a risk, it’s best to contact a qualified arborist like Red’s Tree Service to remove them as quickly as possible. By taking good care and working with a professional tree management service, you can extend the life of the tree without risking your property.

Sometimes, dead limbs and problem areas can be identified by evaluating the color of the leaves. If leaves on a specific limb are brown, dry, or dead, that’s a good indication that that limb should be preemptively removed. Whenever possible, take preventive measures to anticipate the failure of a healthy tree.

Keeping an eye on how your trees are growing is a great way to head off problems before they develop. Watching for crossed or rubbing branches, false crowns, drooping limbs, and so on will give you a good idea of when trimming is necessary. 

Overlooking structural pruning

Homeowners often overlook the benefits of structural pruning for young trees. Trees evolved in forests where they tend to grow straight and lose lower branches due to competition for light. Many species tend to develop multiple stems/leaders that are more prone to failure when they’re planted in a landscape full of sun. Weak attachments that fail later in the life of the plant are due to the lower branches growing at the same rate as the terminal leader. 

Trimming and pruning trees when they’re young and growing quickly is critical to ensuring a strong framework for future growth. We recommend focusing on maintaining a single dominant stem unless multiple stem clumps are specifically desired. Try to keep branch sizes proportional to the stem diameter at their point of attachment, and be sure to remove some branches to ensure adequate spacing between permanent scaffold limbs as the tree grows. 

6 Biggest Mistakes Homeowners Make When Trimming Their Trees

Trust the professionals at Red’s Tree Service

Certain species of trees will require more precise timing and different approaches for proper trimming, and having an experienced arborist like us take care of your trimming needs helps keep you, your property, and your trees safe. 

By using a licensed tree service professional like Red’s, you’re ensuring that a correct pruning and trimming job will be done. This will create and maintain strong tree structures that will look beautiful for years to come. If you have trees you’d like us to inspect or are overdue for a trim, get in touch with us today for a FREE estimate