Tree trimming is one of the most important tree care routines. And when done right, it can enhance your tree’s appearance, keep diseases at bay, and boost its structural integrity.

However, if you use the wrong techniques, you can end up exposing your tree to unnecessary stress and diseases. You can even end up killing the tree.

Here is a comprehensive tree trimming guideline that will come in handy in helping you to stick to the best practices and techniques that have been recommended by arborists.

tree trimming guidelines

Why trim trees?

The following are the main reasons why you should consider trimming your trees.



Trees with crossing branches, crowded foliage, and an imbalanced structure, tend to lose their aesthetic appeal. The same is true for trees that have dead, dying, broken, or loosely hanging branches.

Trimming helps to restore the appeal of such trees by getting rid of damaged branches. It also helps to give them an appealing shape. All in all, it enhances their aesthetic appeal.



An imbalanced tree has a high risk of falling. Loose, dead or dying branches too. And if the tree or the branches fall, they can cause serious injury. There are even cases of trees causing death.

An imbalanced tree can be balanced through trimming. Dead, dying, or loose branches can be removed way before they have the opportunity to injure loved ones. As a result, by strategically pruning your trees, you can make them safer.

In cases where trees are growing near an intersection, they can obstruct the view of both passengers and drivers. This can create blind spots, making it dangerous for people who are using the road. In such a case, you can easily make the area safer by reducing the foliage of the tree. This is because by strategically removing leaves, stems, and branches of the trees, you can drastically improve visibility at the intersection.



Some diseases and pests are hard to control. And when left unattended, they can easily kill a tree.

Trimming off diseased branches is an easy way to keep pest infestations and diseases under control. It can stop a pest infestation or disease from spreading to the rest of the tree. And it can also keep it from spreading to other trees on your property.



If a tree is located near a pathway or a road, its crown can make it challenging for people or vehicles to pass through. Instead of removing the tree, you can simply raise its crown through trimming. It will allow you to enjoy the aesthetic appeal of the tree, without having to deal with the inconveniences of its obstructiveness.

The proper way to trim a tree limb

The proper way of cutting a tree’s limb is to:

  • make the cut beyond the limb’s bark ridge
  • make an angled cut
  • make the angled cut in such a way
  • that it faces away from the limb
    take advantage of the three-cut technique in order to minimize the risk of extensive injury when cutting large or long limbs

Trimming thick tree branches

Trimming thick and heavy tree branches can lead to significant tree damage. To minimize the magnitude of injury that it can cause, it is always advisable to use the three-cut tree trimming technique.

Here is what you should do.

  • Start off by making a halfway cut on the underside of the large branch. make this first cut about 18 inches from the stem.
  • Measure about an inch from the first cut, and then make the second cut on the upper side of the branch. With this cut, go all the way.
  • Make the last cut just above the collar ridge — a swollen area of the limb that is generally located closer to the stem. Make sure that you make a slanted 45-degree cut. Doing so will help to discourage water accumulation. It will thus reduce the rate of rotting, while also speeding up the wound-healing process.
Tree trimming guidelines Tips & Techniques

Steps during the trimming process

The following are the steps that you should take when trimming a tree.


Step 1: Identify the reason for trimming the tree

Before you begin the trimming process, you need to settle on the main reason why you want to trim the tree. Are you doing it to make the tree less obstructive? Do you simply want to improve its shape? Or do you want to stop the spread of a disease?
Identifying the reason for the trimming will determine which trimming method you will use. It will also determine which areas you will focus your trimming on.


Step 2: Map out the tree’s skeleton

After settling on the goal of the tree trimming, the next step should be to map out the tree’s skeleton. These are the main branches of the tree, and which you should never touch. And unless they are diseased or damaged, cutting the branches or the area of the stem that is part of the skeleton is a violation of tree trimming best practice rules.


Step 3: Get rid of diseased, dead, dying, broken, or loosely hanging branches

Thereafter, you should go after damaged branches. This includes loosely hanging, dying, dead, or broken branches.
No matter your reason for trimming, these are branches that you are going to remove either way. As a result, starting with them will help to reduce the risks of over-pruning.


Step 4: Thin out crowded sections

With the damaged parts removed, it will be easier for you to now see which sections need thinning. Look for crowded areas, crossed branches, or branches that are growing towards the stem. Remove these branches first, and if it doesn’t give your tree as much spacing as you like, you can then remove branches, evenly, from the crowded sections.


Step 5: Remove obstructive branches and foliage

After you are done thinning out the tree’s foliage, you should then move on to remove branches that are obstructive. This includes branches that are so low that they make it difficult for people to move under them. Or branches and foliage that is too close to utilities to a point that they hinder their use.


Step 6: Trim for shape

The last step in the trimming process is to remove and cut branches in order to give the tree an appealing shape. And when doing so, there are only two rules that you should stick to.

The first is to avoid removing more than a quarter of the tree’s foliage. And the second is to abstain from removing branches or limbs that make up the tree’s skeleton.

What is the best time of the year to trim trees?

Timing is important when it comes to optimizing for tree pruning results.

For the best results, you should prune your trees in winter — specifically, mid to late winter.

Why? Because during winter, most trees are dormant. As a result, they tend to have minimal foliage. This makes seeing the structure and “skeleton” of the tree easier.

Furthermore, winter presents the least risk of diseases and infections. And it also gives the trees enough time to recover before the rapid-growth stage of the warmer months begins.

Early blooming trees

Early blooming trees like magnolia, flowering plum, and apricot need a different trimming timetable. Instead of pruning them during winter, it is always advisable that you schedule your pruning timetable based on when they bloom.

For these trees, it is always advisable to prune them right after they bloom. Trimming them at any other time will simply cause them to not bloom. This is because these trees usually bloom based on the preceding year’s growth.

Late-blooming trees

Late-blooming trees on the other hand usually set their buds based on that year’s growth. For these trees, pruning them in early spring is ideal.
Therefore, if you have an American smoke tree, a dogwood, a Japanese tree lilac or a Hawthorn, the best time to prune it will be in early spring.

Tree trimming methods

The tree trimming method that you adopt will largely depend on the reason why you want to trim your tree in the first place. The following are the most common tree trimming methods and the common reasons why homeowners use them.

Crown thinning

Crown thinning involves removing a tree’s foliage with the aim of reducing overcrowding. It creates better spacing, and this usually helps to reduce the competition for resources.

It is usually concerned with the density of the crown. And it is rarely concerned with changing a tree’s shape or size.

crown thinning

Crown raising

Crown raising is a trimming method that involves removing branches, limbs, and foliage that is located on the lower half of the tree’s crown. Its main purpose is to create clearance by removing branches and limbs that are obstructive.

crown raising

Crown reduction

Unlike crown thinning, crown reduction focuses on altering the shape and size of the crown. With this method, a tree trimmer is focused on reducing either the height or the width of the crown. This may be designed to trigger new growth or to strengthen it. It essentially involves trimming off older limbs in order to encourage the growth of new ones.

crown reduction stem
crown reduction branch

Crown cleaning

Crown cleaning is geared towards removing damaged or diseased parts of a tree. Its aim is to primarily make a tree safer and healthier. And it also tends to improve a tree’s appearance.

Tree trimming cost

Size of the treePrice range
< 30 feet$75 - $550
30 - 60 feet$600 - $1,000
> 60 feet$900 - $1800

DIY Vs professional cost

As a homeowner, you have the option of trimming a tree yourself, or of hiring a professional to handle the tree trimming process.

If you choose to DIY tree trimming, you won’t have to pay for the labor and expertise of an experienced arborist. Trimming the tree will thus cost you less simply because all you have to do is to cover the cost of the materials and tools needed for pruning.

The cost of DIY tree trimming typically ranges from $50 to 900. This will largely depend on the type of equipment that you need to rent and the dumping fees in your area.

As for professional tree removal, the cost ranges between $75 to $1800. This amount largely depends on the size of the tree that has to be trimmed.

FAQ’s Tree trimming guidelines

Extra Costs

Some of the things that will attract extra tree trimming costs include the following.


  • Emergency tree trimming per hour

If a tree needs emergency trimming, then it will attract a higher per-hour tree trimming cost. This is because the urgent nature of the work may mean an arborist having to interfere with their schedule. There is also the fact that emergency tree trimming is typically dangerous and carries a higher risk of injury or property damage.


  • Location of the tree

How far the tree is located away from the tree care service will also play a role in determining how much they end up charging. Generally, the farther away a tree is, the more they are likely to charge mainly because of transportation costs.


  • Time since the last trimming

If a long time has passed since the last trimming, you are likely to pay more for tree trimming. This is because your tree has likely developed more branches and foliage. There is also a good chance the tree’s branches are larger and heavier. It may thus need more work.


  • Accessibility

Trees that are located in hard-to-reach areas tend to attract a higher fee than those that are easy to access.


  • The health of the tree

A diseased tree will attract extra costs. This is because such a tree will need to be strategically pruned by an expert. Poor health may also necessitate extra services like root pruning, pest control, fertilization, and soil testing. As a result, pruning such a tree will cost more than pruning a healthy tree.


You can trim off about a third of a tree’s crown without killing it. However, there are some tree species that can survive extreme trimming, like topping off more than half the crown, provided they have access to an adequate amount of moisture and nutrients.

As a general rule, you should always leave about ⅔ of the tree’s height with living branches. And since the branches that are on the bottom half of the tree’s height are critical to the development of a strong trunk, trimming the branches that are located on this area should only be done on a need-to basis.

No, a tree will not die if you cut its branches. As long as it still has foliage, the tree can still produce enough food to sustain itself. And with time, it can develop new shoots and new branches.

Ben McInerney
Author: Ben McInerney - Ben is a qualified arborist with 15 plus years of industry experience in Arboriculture. He ran a successful tree service before turning to writing and publishing. Ben is dedicated to providing users with the most accurate up-to-date information on everything trees.