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Tree pruning or tree lopping means to cut down out-grown, unnecessary and extra branches of a tree. Many people refer to the term ‘Tree Lopping’, however ‘Pruning’ is the ideal term because it is the term used in Australian Standard 4373-2007 Pruning of Amenity Trees. A professional arborist would always follow this standard and doing so ensures the tree is able to fight against disease and sustain a long healthy life.

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The right time to prune a tree

Usually significant tree pruning is performed in the autumn or winter. The reason is that there is no growth and tree is in a dormant stage. Pruning during the dormant time minimises the loss of sap and stress to the tree. Of course, there are certain trees that continue to grow throughout the year and such trees may be pruned any time of the year. In the summer, when surrounded by healthy branches with leaves, leafless branches can be easily identified as dead wood, go ahead and remove those dead branches then.

Be cautious about the size

Usually thin, long and outgrown branches are fairly easily removed. If the diameter is greater than 10cm, then avoid pruning yourself for aethestic reasons and consider consulting an arborist if you need to prune the tree for other reasons.

What to remove and what to leave

If the diameter of the lateral branches lies between one-half and three-quarters of that of the trunk, then they are clearly a significant part of the tree structure and should remain, otherwise, they could be removed. Two third of a tree’s height must be covered with the live branches. Removing too much of them especially near the bottom can make a tree lose its strength.

Branches with V-shaped structures are naturally weak, can break off in wind or ice storms. Therefore, to prevent V-shapes from causing problems it is better to remove one of the stems while they are young. For larger V-shapes that were pruned too late, cut one side back to a lateral branch so that the other side begins to dominate.

Branches that are U-shaped at the ridge are more secure and should be cut only after more careful consideration.

Common reasons for tree pruning

  • Remove storm-damaged or diseased branches.
  • Remove excess weight off a tree, pruning before it is likely to break and fall uncontrolled.
  • One of the most common causes of removing long and wide tree branches is to help a utility line. Outgrown trees can get too close to telephone or electricity cables, branches are removed as a safety measure.
  • To reduce the height of a tree that has become an obstacle and blocks a view.
  • To get the tree in the desired shape. A frequent reason behind pruning a tree is to get it in an aesthetically appealing design.

How to prune a tree?

A little knowledge can go a long way (as long as you are not attempting to prune anything too big without proper training and safety equipment). To cut a branch, look for two things. First is the collar and second are the ridge. The collar is the swollen area where the branch meets the trunk it and is the part that will heal the wound left by pruning.

tree branch diagram
  • Do not cut too close to the trunk, this will delay the sealing of the wound.
  • Do not cut too far from the trunk, leaving an ugly stub, this can give insects an entry point and the wound cannot seal until the stub is removed.
  • Instead make the cut just outside the branch collar, the branch collar contains chemicals that encourage the formation of tissue to will seal the wound. Cut from the outside edge of the branch-bark ridge and cut through the branch, finishing at the outside edge of the collar swelling on the underside of the branch.

Larger branches are best removed in three steps

  1. Make a shallow cut on the underside of the branch, about 4-5 inches from the trunk, this is to prevent bark tearing.
  2. Cut the entire branch off about 2-3 inches from the initial cut. When the weight of the unsupported branch causes it to fall, the initial cut from the first step keeps the bark from peeling down the side of the trunk.
  3. Make the last cut, removing most of the remaining stub. Make this cut just outside the branch collar, in the same manner as described above for a smaller branch.
where to cut the tree

Above you can see the correct way to reduce a large branch to a suitable side branch. Cuts 1 and 2 are removing the majority of the branch, and the final cut finishes the job.

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