Making The Cut – 5 Steps To Trimming Your Trees This Winter

Winter's arrival usually brings a respite from most lawn and yard work as temperatures drop and plants go dormant. But why not take advantage of the lull to do some yard maintenance that's actually easier in the winter time? Pruning your trees, for example, is a task often made easier by the season.

Why prune trees in winter? For one thing, the leaves of deciduous trees have fallen off, leaving the trunk and branches more visible. It can also stimulate growth when it bursts back to life in the spring and minimizes sap leakage. Here are 5 steps successfully pruning your trees during the dormant season.

Inspect the Tree

First, perform a walk-around of the tree to carefully look for signs of damage, disease or dead branches. Mark broken or diseased branches to be trimmed with colored string or paper markers. While you're looking at the tree, keep in mind its overall shape so you can prune according to this shape. 

Remove Dead or Diseased Branches

The most obvious places to prune are branches that appear to be damaged or dying. Work from the ground using a pole saw or hand-held pruners (according to the size of the tree), begin with any branches you marked earlier. Before cutting, disinfect your tools with a bleach and water solution to prevent transmitting any tree diseases.

To cut a large branch, first locate the collar -- a lip of tissue where the branch grows out of the trunk. Cut a small wedge on the bottom of the branch a foot or so away from the collar to prevent the branch from breaking while you work. Then cut the branch cleanly a little farther from the collar. The small portion left is called a stub, and your final pass will be to cut this stub off at an angle as close to the collar as possible. Always cut branches of any size at an angle parallel to the collar. 

Trim Around Walking Paths

While you don't want to cut the tree off in any obvious straight lines (it will look silly!), do pay attention to where people walk around the tree and trim accordingly. Likewise, look for branches that are getting in the way of power lines, rubbing the side or roof of any buildings or hanging dangerously over inhabited areas.  

Thin Remaining Branches

Once you've removed potentially dangerous or annoying branches, you can look for places to thin the tree as it remains. Remove branches that cluster too closely together, cutting off free flow of air, or any that are growing back inward toward the trunk. If the earlier steps have resulted in the loss of a lot of branches already, don't feel compelled to thin out more. While thinning will help the tree find sun and keep its energy reserves in healthy branches, you don't want to trim the tree too much and shock it. 

Call for Help

When working with trees, it's vital to know when to call for professional help. Never work on trees near power lines, storm-damaged large trees or those whose branches dangle above the house. And if you can't reach what you need from the ground, don't risk trying to work on a ladder -- and never, ever climb the tree to prune it. It's best to safely trim the trees you can manage and hire a professional service to handle the others. This way, both you and your trees will be able to enjoy a long and happy life.