Pruning Mature Trees


Before Pruning

Mature shade trees that are looking poorly, or that are overloaded with many interior branches and limbs, may benefit from major surgery. Trim out most of the smallest interior branches to improve air circulation and light availability. A qualified arborist will do this correctly and safely. Call a professional when the tree is large and requires climbing and a chainsaw to do the job; when the tree is located near utility lines, buildings or highways; or when major storm damage requires an informed judgment on whether and how to save the tree.

After Pruning

Be very cautious about who you hire to care for your trees. Too many "tree experts" will come in and butcher a perfectly wonderful shade tree. Look for a company that uses qualified arborists trained to care for trees properly. Always ask a tree care company to give you references of happy customers and then take the trouble to visit them and look at the job that was done on their trees. Good pruning should be invisible to the layman's eye.



Opinion Column By Jeff

Pruning Trees High Up (NOT)

A friend has given me a good lead for my column about long pole pruning tools.  Fortunately he is still alive to tell the tale.  My friend had a large limb hanging over his tennis court.  His son set up a ladder against the tree and started cutting the limb with a hand saw.  My friend stood below watching.  They made the mistake of assuming the limb would fall directly down to the ground.  Instead, as often happens, the large weight of the limb was distributed in such a manner that when the cut reached the breaking point, the limb swung to the right as it began to fall, sweeping my friend’s son right off the ladder.  My friend had for no special reason moved his position on the ground just before the branch started to fall.  The very large heavy branch fell right where my friend had just seconds before been standing.  What could have been a tragedy is a story now told with much chagrin about using poor judgment in cutting a limb off a large tree. 


As I have noted several times in this column, yardeners should never try to prune limbs larger than 2 inches in diameter when standing on a ladder.  If the limb is bigger than 2 inches and requires a ladder to be reached, that is a job for a professional arborist.  That’s the rule. 


At the same time, we are now in a season when snow storms and ice storms can cause limbs of trees to break or be damaged.  If those limbs are within 12 to 15 feet of the ground, they can be removed safely with a pole pruning tool. 


Pole pruners come with gasoline engines, electric motors, but most often as a saw and clippers that are operated manually.  The powered tools are really for folks who have a lot of tall trees and need to be pruning up above 10 feet frequently; not a common situation for yardeners. If you browse for powered pole pruners, you will find models costing from $150 to over $500. 


I prefer the manual pole pruning tool because it is relatively inexpensive,  requires little maintenance,  is easy to store, and it works very well for incidental pruning jobs. Home centers and garden centers usually carry what I call plain vanilla models of pole pruners for $20 to $40.  On the end of a telescoping 12 foot pole will be a curved pruning saw and a set of cutting blades that close by pulling on a line attached to a spring device.  You place a one inch thick branch in between the blades and pull the string to cut the branch.  The curved saw is quite sharp and can be used to cut through a branch up to four or five inches thick with only a few water breaks during the job. For basic models check out Home Depot or Ace Hardware Stores or on the net at 


My favorite long pole pruner is Fiskars Telescoping Pruning Stik (  This 12 foot tool has pruning blades with an adjustable angle and are operated by sliding the handle up and down; there is no string to get in the way.  It includes a 15 inch curved pruning saw at an angle that also can be adjusted. A 12 foot Pruning Stik can reach over 15 feet when you add your own height and the extension of your arms.  Yes, it does cost about $80, but this tool is so well made, you will have it forever.  The Pruning Stik is sold at English Gardens, or on the web at 


Think About “Limbing Up”

This is a good time of year to consider “limbing up” one or more of your landscape trees with branches so low on the trunk they create serious shade under the tree.  If you cut off the lower limbs up to 15 feet or so, you still may not get any sun around the base of the tree, but the improvement in the brightness of the indirect light is often sufficient to be able to plant shade plants such as impatiens and bleeding hearts or even have some turf.  Never prune off more than one third of the full height of the tree, and please be careful where you stand as you cut off branches.  .



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