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Pruning Mistakes to Avoid

Updated: Jul 31, 2023

Imroper Pruning of tree branches

It's easy to avoid making mistakes when pruning trees or shrubs.

Tree and shrub pruning can be done for many reasons. These include reducing the plant's size, opening up its canopy, removing obstacles, improving the shape of the tree or removing any dead or damaged growth.Pruning must be done correctly, regardless of the reason. This will ensure that the tree or shrub is healthy and continues to thrive.

Arborists and aesthetic pruning professionals are trained to recognize the growth patterns of trees and shrubs.The arborists evaluate the overall plant form and then cut or modify any branches that pose a threat to plant health, are dangerous for people or property, or detract from its overall character.Every pruning cut can cause injury to the plant. This is why it is important to use as few branches as possible when pruning.This will result in a vigorous, naturally-shaped plant.


First, you should know when the best time to prune your trees.

Winter pruning offers many benefits. Winter is the dormant period for trees and plants around Tree Pruning Winchester VA. This is a great time to prune most trees or shrubs.It's less stressful for the tree and it's easier for you to see the branch structure. Also, it is less likely to spread pathogens.Pruning trees before spring buds break will help them heal faster.

Do not prune in autumn. New growth can be stimulated by pruning cuts. Unfortunately, temperatures dropping to freezing will kill the new growth.As the growing season winds down, trees and shrubs lose energy. New growth in autumn will therefore draw on their stored energy.The energy that was used to grow this plant is lost if it dies from a freeze.

Do not cut the flower buds and leaf buds. A fall pruning might remove any leaf or flower buds that have been set by a tree during its summer growth.These buds remain dormant during winter and then bloom in the spring.These dormant buds can be lost and plants will need to expend more energy to make new buds.Conifers and rhododendrons, for example, should be pruned in the late summer to ensure they do not set buds next year.

If you prune spring flowering trees or shrubs in the late winter, or early spring, you'll experience a similar lackluster crop of blooms.You should wait until they have bloomed before you make any pruning cuts.

Tree Pruning Mistakes


As this tree attempts to recover from its heading cuts, notice the shoots that grow all along the branches.


The flush cut is one of the most common mistakes in pruning.This happens when you trim a branch flush with the bark or larger branch attached to it.

Although it looks clean and neat, a flush cut will remove the branch collar. This is an area of tissue needed to seal the pruning cut.A flush cut is not able to close the wound and allows pests and pathogens access to the plant, which can cause it to be killed or damaged.

How to avoid a flush cut: Identify and remove the branch collar. This is an area that extends from the base of a branch.This pruning cut stimulates the tissue of the branch collar to grow and seals the wound.


Stub cuts are the opposite to flush cuts. They leave a protruding branch stump that is too long for the branch collar to grow over.

Avoid stub cuts by following this rule: If you can hang a hat on a branch stub, it is too long.


Another mistake is "lion tailing", which involves removing inner branches and keeping growth and leaves at the branch ends.This is a bad practice.

  • Too much foliage is removed (which the tree requires for photosynthesis).

  • Reduces tree structure by shifting weight to the ends of branches

  • The crown is vulnerable to sun scald and wind damage.

  • An increase in stress-response or reaction to growth sprouts ("watersprouts") along trunk and branches. Reaction sprouts indicate that the tree has been over-pruned. This is because it is producing new growth rapidly in an effort to produce energy through photosynthesis.


Heading cuts on large branches are both damaging structurally as well as aesthetically.

A heading cut is a cutting of the branch's end at an inconspicuous point or at a branch junction where there is only one undersized branch growing in the opposite direction.

A pruning cut made at an inconspicuous branch point stimulates the growth many smaller branches around the wound. These small branches are not attached to the tree and don't follow natural branch growth.It is unattractive to leave only a small branch at a branch's end, as it can lead to unstable branches growing up from the stub.

If you’ve ever seen a forsythia that’s been sheared or a topped tree, then you know that heading cuts generally don’t work out well.The spindly, swollen branches that emerge from cut branches are not only ugly but are also prone to breaking apart and will need to be pruned more often to keep them under control.

Heading cuts may be the best option in certain situations, but it's best to leave that decision to a Certified Arborist, who knows exactly when, where, and why to make those cuts.

Proper 3 cut method of pruning a tree


The 3-cut pruning technique ensures that large branches are removed cleanly and without any torn bark.

Trees that had large branches removed by an amateur can often have torn bark.This is usually because the non-professional pruner made the common mistake of cutting the branch in one piece.

The following three steps should be followed when pruning large branches:

  1. Make a cut along the underside of your branch about one to two inches beyond its collar. This will prevent a bark tear from occurring if the branch is cut while it is being made.

  2. The second step is to cut the branch about two-to four inches beyond its collar.

  3. Cut the stub by removing the branch from the collar.


There are four types that can be used to prune: pruning shears, loppers, pruning saws, and chainsaws.The more difficult the job, the better the tool.A lopper can be used to hack through a 3 inch branch. This will result in frustration and a branch that is susceptible to pests and diseases.You must ensure that all cutting tools are sharp, well-tuned and appropriate for the job.

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