How Often Should a Tree be Pruned?

By: Jean Ferdinandsen WI-0149A

      Pruning is one of the most important ways to care for your tree(s).  Regular pruning provides ongoing maintenance and routine care.  The art and science of pruning is to determine how much to remove, where to remove it, and how often to do it.

                Regular pruning helps:

Ø  Prevent serious problems from occurring

Ø  Makes trees safer, healthier, longer lived, attractive, and valuable

Ø  Decreases future maintenance costs and provides long term savings

Ø  Reduces the need for “crisis” management

Ø  Reduces dangers and risks

Ø  Develops and maintains tree condition form and branch structure

Ø  Provides necessary clearance for vehicles, pedestrians and buildings


Start with good pruning specifications as outlined through the ANSI A300 standards and ISA guidelines. Pruning aims to develop a strong tree structure and retard the speed of decay within the tree.  There are six main strategies:

Ø  Develop or maintain a dominant leader

Ø  Identify the lowest branch in the permanent canopy

Ø  Prevent branches below the permanent canopy from growing upright or too large

Ø  Space main branches along a dominant trunk

Ø  Keep all branches less than ½ the trunk diameter

Ø  Keep pruning cuts as small as possible to offer less opportunity for decay

How long a tree goes between prunings, or the “pruning cycle “may often vary from 3-7 years.  This depends on tree species, growth rate, climate, tree age, condition, and location. Two to three prunings should occur on the first four years of a tree’s life.  After that; a three year cycle often works best for young trees or those that need more attention such as fast growing species, or older trees being pruned for the first time.  For most other trees a five year cycle is a reasonable goal.


Extending tree pruning cycles lowers tree condition and ultimately the value of a tree.  The loss in value generally exceeds the savings if the pruning cycle is extended too long.


The Certified Arborist @ Wachtel Tree Science can help you find a balance between safety, aesthetics, and cost.  Experience, education, time, and attention to detail set us apart.  Before pruning we will communicate the pruning to be performed and alternatives. We also provide trained arborists to carry out the work properly. Call us today to evaluate your trees’ pruning needs.


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