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All trees depend on proper pruning to stay healthy and productive. Getting it right can be fairly tricky, especially for individuals who only have experience taking care of a few trees in their yard. Fortunately, it is fairly easy to learn the right way to trim a tree, and there are just a few general rules to keep in mind.

Prune Dormant Trees

Most trees will go dormant during part of the year, usually starting near the end of the fall. This is the best time to prune the tree because you are less likely to damage the tree and because it clears space for new growth during the spring. The main exception to this rule is when the tree has a clear hazard, such as a heavy branch that is on the verge of falling off. In that case, you should prune the tree immediately to make sure that it does not hurt anybody.

Size Matters

You should pay close attention to the size of the branches that you remove from the tree. The diameter of the branch is the most important measurement. For most trees, it is safe to remove any branch that is smaller than five centimeters in diameter. Branches that are larger than ten centimeters should only be removed if there is a strong reason to do so. Any branch that is between those two sizes can go either way and should be treated on a case by case basis.

It’s important to remember that those measurements are rough rules of thumb. Some species are quite small, while others are very large, and they will need to be adjusted in those cases. When in doubt, consult a professional or a reputable reference book to figure out the appropriate sizes for your tree.

Leave Space

Strive to leave plenty of space between branches when pruning. In particular, you should make a point of removing branches when two or more of them rub together. This will leave plenty of room for new growth that will be as healthy as possible, which helps to keep the tree strong. Normal pruning that removes unhealthy branches will normally be enough to assure that there is plenty of space, but it’s wise to keep an eye out for the exceptions.

Stay Safe

Be sure to take appropriate safety precautions while pruning a tree. Always have somebody nearby who can call for help if you fall or hurt yourself. That person can also improve your safety by holding ladders in place. When cutting a branch, make sure that nobody is below it, because falling wood could cause an injury. When in doubt, play it safe and get some help to make sure there are no accidents.