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Avoid These 8 Pruning Mistakes That Can Kill Your Trees

HomeBusinessAvoid These 8 Pruning Mistakes That Can Kill Your Trees

It’s easy to avoid mistakes when you know the correct pruning techniques and, more importantly, why you’re pruning a tree or shrub.

Pruning trees and shrubs are done for several reasons, such as reducing the size of the plant, opening up the canopy, removing obstacles, improving its shape, and eliminating shoots dead or damaged. Whatever the reason, pruning must be done correctly to ensure the continued health and vigor of the tree or shrub.

Arborists and esthetic pruners are trained to understand the growth patterns and physical structure of trees and shrubs. They first assess the general shape of the plant, then remove or alter only those branches that pose a risk to plant health, a danger to people or property, or are detrimental to the general shape and character. As each pruning cut is an injury to the plant, one of the keys to successful pruning is to make as few cuts as possible to achieve the desired result. The result is a vigorous, naturally shaped plant.


First, you must know if you are pruning at the right time of year.

Winter pruning has many advantages. Winter is the slumbering season for plants and trees in Knoxville and is an excellent time to prune most trees and shrubs. Not only is it less stressful on the plant, but it’s also easier for you to see branch structure and less likely to spread harmful pathogens. Trees also heal faster when pruned before spring bud break.

Avoid pruning in the fall. Pruning cuts can stimulate new growth that will be killed when temperatures drop to freezing. In addition, trees and shrubs reduce their energy production at the end of the growing season, so new growth in the fall will use up a plant’s stored energy reserves. Frost dieback means that the energy used for this growth has been wasted.

Do not cut the leaves and flower buds. Fall pruning can remove leaf and flower buds that a tree has already put out during summer growth. These buds remain dormant during the winter months and bloom the following spring. If you remove these buds, you risk losing spring flowers. For example, it is best to prune rhododendrons and conifers in late summer before the buds form for the following year.

You will face a similar lack of flowers if you prune spring-flowering trees and shrubs in late winter or early spring. So wait until they have flowered before making your pruning cuts.

Do not prune when trees are vulnerable to pests and disease. But, more importantly, if you make pruning cuts at the wrong time – even good cuts – you risk leaving your plants and trees susceptible to pathogens that are airborne or transmitted by insects.


Cob cuts on crabapple

Notice the shoots sprouting along the branches as this tree tries to recover from the top cuts.


One of the most common size errors is cropping. This happens when you cut a branch flush with the bark of the tree trunk or the most prominent branch to which it is attached.

Although it may look clean and streamlined, a flush cut removes the branch collar, an area of ​​tissue needed to form a seal on the pruning cut.

How to avoid a flush-cut: Identify the branch collar, an enlarged area around the branch’s base, and cut just beyond it. A pruning cut stimulates the branch collar tissue to grow and seal the wound.


Truncated cuts are the opposite of flush cuts; they leave a protruding end of the branch long enough that the small branch collar cannot grow on it.

A rule of thumb for avoiding branch-end cuts: if you can hang a hat on a branch-end, it’s too long.


Another common mistake is the “lion’s tail,” removing the inner branches and leaving the leaves and growth only on at the ends of the branches. This practice is not recommended because it:

Leaves the crown open to damage from wind and sun scorch and Increases the reaction or stress response of growth shoots along the trunk and branches. These reaction shots signify over-pruning – the tree rapidly produces new growth to generate energy through photosynthesis.


Head clippings, especially on large branches, damage structurally and aesthetically.

A cap cut cuts off the end of a branch at an indiscriminate point or branch junction that leaves only an undersized branch growing in another direction.

Leaving a small branch at the end of a significant branch headcount is aesthetically unappealing and risks the small branch growing out of an unstable branch tip.

If you’ve ever seen a forsythia mowed or pruned, top cuts don’t usually work well. The mass of spindly branches that sprout from cut branches not only looks terrible, but they tend to break and will require more frequent pruning to control them.

There are a few situations where head cuts are the right choice, a decision best left to a certified arborist like voted best Knoxville tree services company who understands precisely when, where, and why to make these cuts.


Diagram of the three-cut pruning method

The 3-cut pruning method ensures that large branches are cut cleanly without tearing the bark.

You often see torn bark on trees with large branches removed by a non-professional. Usually, they made the common pruning mistake of cutting the branch with just one cut.

All the cuts on large branches should follow the three-step process:

The first is to make a shallow cut on the underside of the branch, an inch or two beyond the branch collar. Act as a barrier, preventing a tear in the bark if the branch falls during the cut.

Second, cut the branch two to four inches past the branch collar, removing the branch and leaving a stub.

Finally, cut off the butt by cutting through the branch just beyond the collar of the branch.


Pruners, pruners, pruning saws, and chainsaws there are four types of tools used for pruning. The larger the cut branch, the more influential the tool should be. For example, cutting through a 3-inch branch with a lopper is likely to end in frustration and a downed branch vulnerable to disease and pests. Ensure all cutting tools are sharp, properly adjusted, and the right size for the job.

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