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Tree pruning guide

You can learn to prune trees! 

A well-pruned tree looks better, is healthier and lives longer. Tree pruning is not hard, but there are a few rules of thumb you should know before you start hacking away. See below, and enjoy the photos from our recent tree pruning workshop!

Also, please note that these guidelines are for homeowners working on trees on their own property. If you see a street tree that needs pruning, please contact the City's roadside tree care expert, Rocio Latorre, at rlatorre@mountrainiermd.org and the tree commission at trees@20712.org

1) Plan before you cut. Walk all the way around the tree. Think about which cuts will make the tree healthiest and most attractive.

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2) Create a clear leader.
 Trees should have one main growing point, not two or three competing ones. Remove less dominant or more angled branches that compete with the main leader.

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3) Limb it up. Trees should use their energy and nutrients to grow tall, not wide. Cut off limbs up to a third of the way up the trunk.

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4) Make tree-friendly cuts. When removing a sizable limb, cut it off in sections rather than all at once, to avoid stripping the bark. Don't leave a stub, but also don't make the final cut flush to the trunk. Leave a collar so the tree can heal quickly. Cut with the blade facing down (if possible) and angle cuts slightly away from the trunk.

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5) Create space. If several branches are close to each other, clear out some to give others room. Especially cut branches that are growing across other branches.

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6) Pick the right time. In winter or early spring, when trees are dormant or just starting to bud out, is the best time to prune. Summer is the second best time to prune. Avoid pruning in spring or fall.

7) Don't overdo it. Remove no more than 20% of a tree's total mass at one time. And only attempt what you can do comfortably and with complete control over your tools. Larger trees require professional pruning.