How To Prune A Tree

One of the topics I receive the most requests about is pruning trees. It is one of those things that you have to see, to really get. There are a few things I can tell you but, watch the video to the left and see Paul Gautschi prune his orchard. We will be covering a couple of points below. We need to begin with a clean slate so, forget everything you have heard about pruning trees for just a few minutes and really come to this with an open mind.


Cut to the line:  While there are many different teachings about how to prune trees, there has always been one constant. DON”T CUT THE COLLAR!!! This is the line on a tree marking where a new branch has started. When you cut beyond the collar you leave a stump. This stump will grow suckers and make the tree look ugly. Eventually it will rot and create a cavity. Paul says that the line is there for a reason. Paul has always cut right on that line and you can see in the video that his trees healed very well and you are not left with these branch nubs all over.

Use quality tools:  Paul does not recommend using pruning loppers because you cannot get close enough to the line and they crush the wood instead of cut. For pruning you want nice clean cuts. There are two items Paul highly recommends you get. He says that these two tools below will be all you should ever need to prune your trees.


Felco F-8 Classic Pruner with Comfortable Ergonomic Design.

The Felco ergonomic hand pruner sports a strong anvil blade and is an ideal choice for light day-to-day pruning. Users will benefit from the pruner’s lightweight construction and handle design that resists slipping. Easy to use, the pruner tackles tasks such as cutting back an overgrown hydrangea or removing a sickly pansy patch with minimal stress on user hands and wrists. The pruner’s anvil blades are crafted with hardened Swiss carbon steel blades that offer frictionless slicing and resist rust. With a fine blade adjustment and a wire cutting notch, the blades easily cut through branches, stems, and wires up to 1-inch in diameter. The light metal handles are forged for durability and pivot on tough, replaceable pins rather standard rivets. A cushioned stop keeps the blades from opening unexpectedly or overly wide. The pruner measures 8-1/2 inches long and weighs only 8.7-ounces, and comes with a limited lifetime warranty.


Samurai Ichiban 330Mm Pruning Saw Scabbard.

The Samurai Ichiban 13″ pruning saw is the latest design in handsaws. Saw is incredibly smooth and allows you precise cutting. Samurai saw blades are taper ground and thinner so they cut faster and easier. The impulse hardened, permanently filed teeth are incredibly durable. The legendary sharpness of Samurai saws is achieved by using a whetstone and then chrome plating to reduce friction during use. Features an ergonomic handle that’s covered with a rubber cushion for a comfortable, non-slip and positive grip. Includes a hard plastic scabbard that has a detachable 1″ wide woven nylon belt loop. Replacement Blade is available – #GC 331LH Tooth Profile: The two common blade profiles are “tapered” and “non tapered.” The tapered blade is thicker at the bottom where the teeth are and thinner at the top following edge. On a tapered blade the teeth do not have “set” (pushed left and right) therefore the blade following the teeth must be thinner to prevent drag in the saw kerf. A non-tapered blade has the same thickness from the top to the bottom. The teeth on a non-tapered blade have “set” to create a wider kerf at the teeth so the remaining blade can follow through the cut without drag. Typically a “non tapered” blade is more rigid than the tapered blade. Tooth Style: The three sided or tri-edge tooth has edges on both sides and across the top of the tooth. This style tooth cuts much faster then the conventional two sided tooth. The advantage of the conventional two sided tooth is it is easier to sharpen. Teeth/inch Teeth per inches refers to the number of saw teeth in one running inch of saw blade. The smaller the number of teeth per inch the “coarser” the blades is.  A blade with a higher number of teeth per inch is described as a fine tooth blade.


Pruning your tree is not science, it’s art.  Which cut to make will be different to everyone.  There are some basic ideas to cover though.  NEVER cut more than 1/3 of the tree.  If you do, the tree will go into panic mode and start sending up root suckers.  The main goals of pruning are to open up the tree so sunlight can get in, remove damaged or diseased limbs, simulate growth or to shape your tree.

Open the tree to the sun:  Topping the list is access to the sun, preferably the AM or morning sun.  Over the evening dew can collect on your tree and you want that off pretty fast.  You can go out there every morning with a towel to dry your tree or plant it in the sun and open it up through pruning.  Moisture on the leaves and branches is also the leading cause of mold and disease.  Plus your fruit will ripen in the sun so, let’s open it up a bit.

Remove damaged or diseased limbs:  Over the last year your tree has been damaged.  It could have been from that wind storm last spring snapping a limb.  Maybe your kids made a rope swing that rubbed the bark off a branch.  Don’t forget that time last fall when Bambi had a field day in your orchard.  Whatever the reason, this is the perfect time to fix it.

Stimulate growth:   During the winter your tree basically goes to sleep.  In the spring the sap starts flowing through the tree.  Because of your pruning, there are less places for it to go and the tree will put on new growth in your desired areas.

Shape of your tree:  This is where we are going to spend the majority of our time while pruning.  The big idea here is not to make the tree go where you want so the fruit is easy to access and the sun can hit every spot of the tree.

Think of your tree as having different levels, like floors in a building or rungs on a ladder.  You never want one level to cross another.  When it is time to prune your trees (winter), there will be a lot of new growth that is going up.  This, for the most part, is where you start.  Fruit does not like to grow on vertical branches.  Since there is a better chance of vertical branches crossing over other branches, get rid of them.

Now to choose which horizontal branches to cut.  If you have three limbs close together, like three fingers spread apart, you want to take the middle one out if you can.  This will open the space up a lot.  If you have a branch that turning back into the tree, that one can go as well.  If you have a branch that is getting too low to the ground, especially after it is full of fruit, cut it back.

If you make a mistake and cut the wrong branch remember, you will get another chance next winter.