How to Prune Different Tree Types

How to Prune Different Tree Types

If you find yourself talking to a certified arborist about tree care, pruning will more than likely come up in the conversation. As I’m sure you’ve heard us say before, pruning is one of the most important tasks in keeping your trees healthy and beautiful. But how should we go about pruning the different trees in the Minnesota landscape? While all trees benefit from pruning, the how and when of pruning can vary for the different types.

Pruning Deciduous Trees

The main difference when pruning deciduous (leafy) and coniferous (cone-shaped) trees is the time of year the pruning should be completed. Deciduous trees should be pruned when they are dormant, which happens in late autumn and early winter.

Pruning should begin when the tree is young to promote a strong and balanced branch structure. When pruning a young tree, the main focus should be on having a central leader or trunk.  If more than one branch is competing to be the central leader, be sure to prune the competing branches annually until the main trunk is fully developed. This will strengthen the structure of the tree and better support the other branches. After the tree has matured, you will want to maintain its strength and balance through pruning, as needed. If branches are becoming crowded or have become diseased or malnourished, due to competition, they should be pruned before any of these issues spread. When pruning mature deciduous trees, start from the outside and work your way toward the trunk. This will equalize the weight of the canopy, which will keep your property safe.

Pruning Coniferous Trees

Coniferous trees should be pruned in late summer or in the late winter into early spring, as they don’t enter the same cycle as deciduous trees. These trees often grow during the late spring and summer months and if they are pruned, can become more easily damaged and put the tree at risk for a fungal infection.

Coniferous trees that are pruned and maintained when they are young will need minimal pruning later in life. This may not seem like an issue now, but if you intend to prune the trees yourself, the task can become quite difficult as the tree matures. Plus, when young coniferous trees are maintained, broken or crowded limbs will be less frequent. Like deciduous trees, the focus of pruning young conifers should be training a central leader. If necessary, you can hold the branch that will become the central leader in place with a string or stake and prune the other branches around it. As the tree matures, pruning should be completed to promote the shape and overall structure of the tree.

Besides being difficult to prune because of the needles and, in many cases, the rigidity of the branches, conifers often have a complex structure. For example, certain coniferous trees, such as junipers, have dead buds in the center of the tree due to a lack of sunlight. And if the tree is over pruned, new buds may not develop and the tree will become imbalanced (and unsightly). Meanwhile, pine trees do not have this zone because the crown of the tree does not cause over shading. When pruning a specific conifer in its maturity, it’s best to know these details before the tree care begins so that you don’t put the health of the tree at risk.

Tips for Pruning Deciduous or Coniferous Trees

While pruning can vary between these different types of trees, there are some rules that are universal.

  • Follow the Leader Trees should have a central leader, whether they are deciduous or coniferous. When the tree is young, prune branches that may be competing to be the central leader of the tree. Having more than one can result in major damage to your tree and your property.
  • Stop at 30 You should never remove more than 30 percent of the tree’s limbs. By doing so, you risk weakening the structure of the tree.
  • Do Your Homework If you’re not sure about the pruning specifications of a tree on your property, research what they are. Incorrect pruning can be deadly for a tree (or leave the tree looking just plain hideous).
  • Don’t be a Hero Yes, your yard may be your hobby, but if a pruning job is out of reach or seems dangerous, don’t handle it on your own. Call a certified arborist, such as Ostvig Tree Care.

Do you have a pruning task that may be too large for you to handle. Check out the tree and shrub pruning services offered by Ostvig Tree Care by visiting And if you’re not sure exactly what your tree care needs are, call and schedule a free consultation with us.

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