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Tree Trimming 101

by Matt Goering

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Tree trimming is important for aesthetic reasons and to encourage the growth of strong, healthy trees. It isn't as simple as some people think, however. It's important to understand the basics before you start or you could end up hurting your tree instead of helping it. And it's very important to polish up on tree trimming safety so you don't end up hurting yourself in the process!

When Is the Best Time to Trim?
As a general rule, spring thru early summer is the best time to work on your trees, though this varies depending on the type of tree you're dealing with. Oaks, for example, should not be trimmed at all from April to October because of susceptibility to disease, and maples are best trimmed in the dead of winter when they're dormant to prevent "bleeding." Before performing any tree trimming on your own it's a good idea to talk to an arborist in your area to get the skinny on proper care for the trees on your property.

Basic Trimming Suggestions
If you do your own trimming, there are a few things to keep in mind when you get going. For starters, it's important not to cut a limb too short or leave it too long. Cut it as close to the "collar" of the branch as possible to avoid providing an entry point for disease and insects. Also, never top off a tree or severely cut back major branches. Doing so will seriously damage the natural structure of the tree, and the resulting growths will look thin, disproportionate, and ugly. You can read more tree trimming tips here.

Tree pruning, which is often used interchangeably with trimming, often involves what are known as crown thinning, crown raising, and crown reduction. If you're not sure what these mean, you might want to consider hiring a professional or read some of these tree pruning tips. The Arbor Day Foundation also provides some good tips here.

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Tree Trimming Safety
Finally, there are a lot of safety precautions to consider when it comes to trimming the trees on your property. The combination of sharp cutting tools and working high off the ground can easily lead to serious injury if proper safety practices aren't observed. Here are a few basic suggestions:

  • Never trim trees on a ladder! Instead, secure yourself to the tree from at least two points, using a harness and ropes.
  • Never climb with cutting tools in hand. Have them raised up to you after you get where you're going.
  • Always wear a hardhat and safety glasses to protect yourself from falling limbs, flying splinters, and other unexpected debris.
  • Improper chainsaw use can cause kickback, and kickback can seriously injure or kill you. Educate yourself about proper chainsaw use and wear protective gear if you're trimming with a chainsaw.
  • Leave major branches to the professionals. Large branches are very heavy and behave unpredictably if cut incorrectly. They can seriously injure you in the blink of an eye.

    In short, it's important that you know what you're doing when it comes to tree trimming. Heights, cutting tools, and falling tree limbs all combine to make this a dangerous task. On top of that, improper technique and practices can end up hurting your tree more than it helps. You can learn more about proper tree trimming techniques here, but if you have any doubts about your trimming abilities or pruning knowledge, this is probably one job better left to the pros. Don't shy away from contacting a reputable tree trimming company or arborist in your area about taking care of the most important plants on your property.

    Matt Goering, formerly a carpenter and house painter, is a freelance writer for the home improvement industry who has published over 600 articles.