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How To On Pruning A Young Tree


Tree pruner at work, Melbourne Tree pruner...
Philip Game/Lonely Planet Images/Getty Images Shigo's Pruning Method

Shigo's Pruning Method

Pruning is essential in developing a tree with a strong structure and desirable form. Here are several methods on pruning trees. The image I present here is one where a tree could have been managed and pruned early without the expense of an arborist with climbing gear.

Difficulty: Average

Time Required: 5 minutes - depending on age

Here's How:

  1. Start with procuring pruning shears or a pruning saw for larger limbs. These tools are necessary to do the job correctly and with the most ease.
  2. Remove structurally weak and dead limbs first. Pruning off limbs that appear dead or limbs with leaves that look distressed is a must for tree health.
  3. Make pruning cuts just outside the branch collar and nearly, but not completely, flush to the trunk. This pruning technique provides viable growing branch bark that will improve wound closure.
  4. Leave most functional limbs on newly planted trees. Pruning for form should start in the second year or third year of the tree's life.
  5. Prune forked codominate trunks to one dominate trunk. Pruning forked trunks reduce multiple problems including poor form, excessive pruning and health problems.
  6. Prune all permanent branches up to a desirable first branch height (generally 8 feet at maturity). Remember that urban and yard trees need to have a raised base for access and yard work.
  7. After several years of a maturing tree, prune branches trying to space 12 to 18 inches apart. Do not do this pruning the first few years but wait for a period of time where the tree is growing rapidly.
  8. Always think of the biology of a growing tree when pruning. If a permanent branch is to be shortened, prune it back to a lateral branch or bud where an immediate growth response will be initiated and that limits dead wood that increases the possibility of disease.
  9. It has been found that sealing a wound with a dressing after pruning does not help in the healing process. Do not seal pruning cuts with wound dressing unless for cosmetic purposes.


  1. A rule-of-thumb for the vertical spacing of permanent branches is pruning back to a distance equal to 3% of the tree's eventual height.
  2. Trees that are used to screen an unsightly view or provide a wind break may be allowed to branch low to the ground. Most large growing trees in the landscape must eventually be pruned to allow head clearance.
  3. The goal in training young trees is pruning to establish a strong trunk with sturdy, well-spaced branches.

What You Need:

  • pruning shears
  • pruning saw
Related Video
How to Prune a Tree

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