How to prune trees
Prior to undertaking any work, it is essential to ascertain if a Tree Preservation Order (TPO) is in place or if the tree is in a Conservation Area. If either is the case, seek permission from your local council before beginning work. Potentially dangerous limbs can, in theory, be removed without permission but the penalties for breaching the legislations, inadvertently or not, can be severe.
Safety is of prime importance when working with trees, so make an honest appraisal of your capabilities, assess the area in which any branches may fall, and erect warning signs or barricades if necessary before beginning. If in any doubt engage a professionally qualified tree surgeon or aboriculturist.
Take a step back and decide what needs to be done to produce a balanced, attractive tree. Work with the natural habit of the tree to shorten or remove branches. Going against the tree’s natural habit produces ungainly trees that lack grace.
Always start by removing damaged, dead, diseased shoots, followed by weak, lax or rubbing growth.
When pruning out disease, clean you pruning tools with disinfectant between cuts. Minimise disease spread by pruning in dry weather, bagging up material and disposing. Only stack healthy logs as animal habitats.
How to remove tree branches and limbs
- Wear protective gloves and, if necessary, eye and head protection
- When cutting a stem, cut just above a healthy bud, pair of buds or side shoot. Where possible, cut to an outward-facing bud or branch to avoid congestion and rubbing of branches
- Make your cut 0.5cm (¼in) above the bud. Beware cutting too close, as this can induce death of the bud. Beware cutting too far from the bud, as this can result in dieback of the stub, and entry of rots and other infections
- When removing larger limbs, make an undercut first about 20-30cm (8in-1ft) from the trunk, and follow this with an overcut. This will prevent the bark tearing, leaving a clean stub when the branch is severed
- Then remove the stub, first making a small undercut just outside the branch collar (the slight swelling where the branch joins the trunk), followed by an overcut to meet the undercut, angling the cut away from the trunk to produce a slope that sheds rain
- Avoid cutting flush to the trunk as the collar is the tree’s natural protective zone where healing takes place
- There is no need to use wound paints, as they are not thought to contribute to healing or prevent disease. The exception is plums and cherries (Prunus sp), where wound paint may be used to exclude silver leaf disease spores
If pruning cuts bleed sap, don’t bandage or bind the cut, as attempts to stem the bleeding are likely to be unsuccessful and may impede rather than aid healing.