How to Trim Small Tree Branches

Learning tree pruning and how to trim small tree branches in your yard can help your trees grow strong and healthy. Knowing when, where, and why to trim your tree branches is part of the tree trimming process.

Tree pruning promotes plant health for most trees and can even help the tree produce more flowers and fruit. You can also call a local tree expert to come out and take a look at your trees and give you advice on proper pruning techniques.

Why Should You Trim Your Small Tree Branches?

There are lots of different reasons to prune tree branches in your yard:

Prevent dead limbs

If you’ve noticed dead limbs on your trees, trimming them could help the tree’s overall health.

Shaping your tree

Keeping the overall shape of your trees will require trimming and pruning the branches. By removing branches, you can correct the tree’s shape or overgrown shrub to make it stronger and more healthy as it grows. Experienced pruners will shape their trees by cutting back the lateral branch.

Increase blooming

Corrective tree surgery is often recommended to help with bloom, blossom, or fruit production on your tree.

Improve the tree’s health

When the bark is discolored, you’ve found fungal growth or diseased branches, there’s not a solid frame for the tree, or branches are rubbing together, you’ll need to prune back branches for a healthier and more beautiful tree.

Prevent damage

Damaged branches can fall on your roof, car, power lines, or even people and cause damage or injuries.

Bring it back to life

Before you write off a tree that you think is dead, consider taking some time to properly prune it to see if that brings it back to life. Trimming encourages new growth on the tree.

Why Should You Trim Your Small Tree Branches?

A common mistake is pruning young trees and stripping them of small branches. Mature trees with large branches don’t need to be trimmed as much as young trees. You can still do occasional pruning on larger trees to help maintain your tree’s health and overall shape and structure.

What You Should Know Before Trimming Your Trees

tree trimming tips

Tree Trimming Supplies

There’s not much needed when it comes to DIY tree trimming and pruning:

  • Safety glasses
  • Leather gloves
  • Hand pruners (or pruning shears) and loppers
  • Pruning saw to cut the thicker branches.
  • Pole Pruners
  • Yard bag or tarp

Types of Trees and Shrubs

It will also be helpful to know what kind of trees you have in your yard before you start pruning. While you don’t need to know the specific species, knowing the general type of tree and when it blooms can be helpful.

If you’re not sure about the specific types of trees in your yard, you can pay attention to when the trees are blooming and flowering. You can also have a local tree expert come out to look at your trees and plants to help you determine what they are and how to best care for them.

Parts of a Tree

Knowing the essential parts of a tree will also be helpful to you when you’re trimming trees:


The leader is the primary growth of the tree, usually the trunk of the tree and the main branch leading from that.


Branch stubs are left behind when a branch breaks off or doesn’t fully grow.


This is the part of the tree where the branch meets the tree’s trunk.


The smaller branches around the ground level of your tree are called suckers because they can suck the nutrients from the tree without offering any structure or support to the tree.

Water sprouts

These are tiny little sprouts that pop up along the branches and at the tree’s ground level.

pruning small trees

How To Prune Small Trees?

It’s best to start by looking at the tree you want to trim. Make a note of individual weak branches that look dead, are hanging too low, or are rubbing on other branches. Be sure to keep the tree’s branch structure reasonably open, so it can still get light and air.

If you’re pruning your tree to help maintain a specific shape, take note of branches that need trimming to continue growth in the direction you’d like. Keep in mind that it’s best to go with a basic shape or natural form. Fanciful shapes are doable, but only by experienced topiarists. Focus on helping your tree establish a dominant leader so it can withstand the colder months and high winds.

Gather the correct tools and make sure you have everything you need before starting. Cut at a 45-60 degree angle at the branch’s base near the tree trunk or a larger branch to remove a skinny branch from the tree. Be careful when using a pole pruner on skinny branches, less than one inch in diameter, because it’s difficult to make a proper cut.

For large or heavy branches, make a small cut on the bottom side of the branch, so it cuts about halfway through the branch. Next, cut the top of the tree limb towards the bottom – halfway through the branch – about half an inch further away from the trunk than the first cut. Doing this will help make sure the branch breaks free. You can then cut the stub off closer to the collar near the trunk.

Trim or saw them off as cleanly as possible as you’re making cuts to remove branches. Avoid twisting or turning the branches to remove them, so you don’t cause any stress to the tree.

You also want to avoid removing bark when you’re trimming your trees. The bark protects the tree, so you want to keep it as intact as possible.

To start removing branches after you’ve decided which branches to remove:

  1. Start by removing any dead, broken, or weak branches.
  2. Next, remove any branches that look like there’s undesirable growth that can lead to fungus or disease.
  3. Remove any wayward branches that don’t maintain the tree’s shape.

Avoid cutting into the branch bark ridge, which is the area between the branch and the trunk that’s raised a little higher than the branch.

Tips for Pruning and Trimming Your Trees

Tips for pruning small tree branches

You don’t need to worry about trimming trees when you first plant them in your yard. Leaving these trees to settle into the soil is the best way to help them have a long, healthy life. Start pruning the following year unless there are dead or broken branches that need to be removed right away.

Trim branches back to a healthy point. Leaving a stub on the branch gives diseases, pests, and fungal growth a way to get into the tree. This can turn an otherwise healthy tree into a dead tree.

The general rule of thumb is to remove no more than one-fourth of the tree’s foliage when pruning your tree. You don’t want to trim from the very top of your tree or bush to keep the tree’s canopy intact. Further, pruning too close to ground level will lead to weak and floppy growth.

Try to keep the branch collar intact when you remove branches. This is where the branch meets the tree trunk you’re pruning. Cut as close to this point as possible without cutting into the tree’s trunk. Cutting into the branch collar can prevent the tree from sealing over the cut properly. Be sure to leave a short stub and cut at a slight angle so that the branch collar can help the tree with its healing process.

Pinching off new growth can make more dense growth and flowering. Instead of cutting off branches, pinch off the new flower buds. This method works well on evergreen trees like fir, spruce, and pine.

When is the Best Time to Trim Small Tree Branches?

Best Time to Trim Small Tree Branches

Trimming the small branches on your trees and bushes can make the entire tree healthy. It’s essential to trim the branches at the right time, so you don’t unintentionally make your tree susceptible to disease or illness. Don’t worry if you’ve pruned your plants at the wrong time – it won’t kill damage anything (unless done frequently), but it can affect that year’s flowers or fruit.

It’s important to note that if you’re trying to reshape your tree, the lateral branch becomes part of the new tree crown at the beginning of the growing season.

  • Fruit tree – trimming and pruning fruit-bearing trees can produce more fruit. During the blooming season, pick off dead blooms and rotten fruits and save bigger trimming for when the tree’s not in bloom. Fruit trees don’t always have a strong central leader.
  • Flower tree – pinching off blooms once they’ve died can help produce more blooms during the season. While the tree is in its dormant season, you can do additional pruning and trimming.
  • Sap producing tree – trimming trees that produce sap should be trimmed during the winter. Sap will still “bleed” when trimmed, but it’s less harmful to the tree during the cooler months, and the sap will stop flowing when the leaves return to the tree.

In addition to knowing what kind of trees you have to trim, the time of year can also play an essential role in pruning trees. Generally, when your plants are in their dormant season, that’s the best time to work on pruning and trimming them. Trimming or pruning during dormancy lowers the risk of disease. If you’re not sure when your small trees are dormant, this might help:

  •  Spring and summer pruning: If your trees or shrubs bloom in the early spring, it’s best to prune them as soon as they’re done blooming in the late spring and early summer. Waiting until the late summer can lead to disease. However, water sprouts and weak branches can be removed at any time during the summer months.
  • Late winter pruning: It’s best to prune plants that flower during the summer months when they’re dormant, usually during the winter months. Common pruning mistakes include pruning oak trees in the winter, but you should avoid this as it’s when they are more susceptible to disease.

These guidelines are most useful for climates with four distinct seasons and yearly winter chill.

You can also prune deciduous trees or plants while they are dormant in winter to encourage new growth. There’s no need to wait when you’re removing dead or broken branches.

When to Hire Someone to Trim Your Trees

Hire someone to trim your trees

Sometimes it’s just easier to hire someone and have them come in to look at your trees and landscaping, listen to your vision for the space, and make recommendations based on their experience.

Having an expert assess your trees and overall yard will help ensure you’ve got both healthy trees and a yard that looks adequately maintained, which will keep your trees healthy now and for years to come.

Professionals can come out to take a look at your trees, and if there are trees that need to be removed, they can take care of that for you as well. The professionals at United Tree Care will be able to talk with you about how to safely remove dead or dangerous trees while trimming the other trees in your yard.

If your trees or bushes haven’t been trimmed recently, the first trimming can seem like a big undertaking. This is a great time to have a professional come in to determine the best action plan for corrective tree surgery.

Learn how to do preventative maintenance work to help keep your trees healthy and prevent damage from dead branches falling on your roof, vehicles, power lines, or other things.

You can also schedule yearly maintenance calls with your landscaper or tree company to keep your trees looking great and healthy.

United Tree Care offers various tree services to our customers in the Manassas, VA area, including tree trimming, emergency tree services, and stump removal. Contact us today for a free quote and get more information about our tree removal services.

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