WSU Extension

Forest and Wildlife Extension

Backyard Forest Stewardship in Western Washington



Proper pruning keeps shade trees healthy, safe, and attractive. In the forest, pruning can reduce fire risk while improving aesthetics and timber quality.

Tree topping is not pruning! Topping trees is an unnecessary and damaging practice. When necessary, reduce the height of hardwood trees by selectively removing upper branches. For view enhancement, tree crowns can be thinned by removing selected branches. Tree removal and replacement with a more appropriate species may be preferable to excessive pruning.

Make pruning cuts at "intersections," not in mid-branch. Avoid "crew cut" pruning. Cut where two limbs intersect or where limbs intersect the main tree trunk.

Make your cut at the branch bark collar. Avoid "flush cuts" which remove the branch bark collar or "stub cuts" which leave branch stubs protruding.

Use proper pruning tools. Use shears or a saw designed for pruning and keep them sharpened. Use a chain saw only for limbs too large for hand tools. Never use an axe. Use recommended safety equipment, such as eye protection, hard hat, gloves and sturdy footwear.

Prune at the right time. Hardwoods are best pruned during the dormant season.

Remove the right amount of branches. In forest conifers, all limbs are normally removed up to a height of 17-18 feet. This height is good for aesthetic enhancement and fire hazard reduction and will improve timber quality in the first 16 feet. Smaller trees should be pruned in stages, retaining approximately 40 percent of the total height in live green branches after pruning.

Learn more:

Conifer Pruning Basics for Family Forest Landowners

The Myth of Tree Topping







The proper way to prune branches on conifers (top) is contrasted to hardwoods (bottom). Most timber stand pruning of small branches is downward from A to B outside the branch bark ridge or collar. Prevent additional tree injury when cutting large branches by cutting partially from B to A, and then finishing the cut from A. The use of a sharp saw or shears will minimize bark tearing below the cut.


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