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5 Mistakes Homeowners Make When Trimming Their Own Trees

Andrew Ogden

Many, if not most, people never trim the trees in their yards. When the average person does get around to it, it's usually because a limb is tapping a window or impinging on a walkway. Bad tree trimming techniques can result in the death of the tree, which can turn it into a falling hazard. Most of the time a poorly trimmed tree is simply an eyesore. Here, we'll discuss how to trim a tree without killing it, how to fix an over-pruned tree, and how to avoid tree trimming gone wrong.

Common Tree Cutting Mistakes

Trimming Trees in Summer

At certain times of the year, trees are under more stress than at other times. Hot and dry seasons are some of the worst times to trim a tree. When the weather is dry and hot, the tree will be under the most stress. The rule of thumb is that the season to avoid is Summer and to do your trimming in Winter. This is true for most trees but not all. Different tree species have different growing seasons. Here are some of the most common and popular trees in North America, and their optimal pruning seasons.

  • Apple: Late Spring
  • Birch: Late Spring
  • Cedar: Winter
  • Douglas Fir: Winter
  • Juniper: Summer
  • Maple: Late Spring
  • Oak: Winter
  • Spruce: Winter
  • Walnut: Late Spring

As you can see, for many, if not most trees, the best cutting season is either late Spring or Winter. In the unusual case of the Juniper, Summer is the best season. For optimal results, your best bet is to call on a serious tree service to make sure your trees are trimmed in the right way and at the right time. 

Over Trimming

The ideal amount to trim is between 5 and 10 percent of the total foliage producing limbs. If you go beyond that at any time of the year, you're going to severely hinder the ability of the tree to absorb sunlight, produce food, grow and heal. This can lead to limb death, which can create both an eyesore and a falling hazard. Just like getting a bad haircut, you'll know when you've over trimmed a tree. It will look weird. Trees grow in fractal patterns for balance and for optimal sunlight absorption. Branching growth patterns may look random. But it's actually a very graceful and sophisticated living system. If you want to know how to fix an over pruned tree, chances are that you have probably done enough damage already. But if you insist on doing more trimming, just try to leave the tree with an even amount of foliage on all sides.

Using Dirty Tools

Poor Tree Trimming Technique

Most people trim trees to get them out of their way or to save a window. But this type of reflexive trimming can lead to poor trimming technique that can damage the tree. Cutting the wrong limb can hurt the ability of the tree to make food and throw it out of balance. Making poor quality cuts can scar the tree and make it easy for infections to set in. The best way to cut tree branches is to use the three-cut method. The three cut method minimizes trauma to the tree and gives it the best chance of bouncing back. As you perform online searches for "tree cutter near me," make sure you're working with a team that uses and understands the three-cut method.

Topping Errors

Topping is a tree trimming method by which we remove the majority of the crown of the tree. Many over-zealous and inexperienced tree trimmers end up with deformed looking trees. If you want to know how to top a tree without killing it, it's going to take a bit of research. Different types of trees in different states of health at different times of the year need to be topped in the correct way and to the correct proportion. Attempting a tree-topping without the right safety equipment used in the correct way can be extremely dangerous. Unless you want to know what happens if you cut all the branches off a tree, it's better not to top your own trees - just like it's not ideal to cut your own hair.

Over-Cutting Roots

Tree roots are another common target for reflexing cutting. Yes, they can be a tripping hazard and they can damage your sidewalk. But cutting tree roots without killing the tree takes some careful planning. Worst of all, cutting the wrong root can easily destabilize a tree, killing it and causing it to become a serious falling hazard. In the vast majority of cases, tree pruning at the root level is something best left to a professional arborist.

For best results, it's always wise to work with the landscaping professionals and expert arborists at First Class Lawn Care in Wilmington, DE. Get in touch today for a free quote on the upcoming pruning season.