Broken branches are just one sign that a tree may be in desperate need of professional pruning

7 Signs it’s Time to Prune Your Trees

Did you know that your trees need you? They do. With the exception of forest trees in undeveloped areas, when a tree outgrows its location or is damaged in a winter storm, you become a kind of landlord to your tree. That makes you responsible for making repairs that keep your trees safe and healthy. This usually means it’s time to prune your trees.

Why Trees Need Pruning

No matter where you live, if you live in a house with roads and sidewalks and have a car or have neighbors with houses or cars, you’ll almost certainly need to prune your trees. While many people value having trees around them, homeowners, urban planners, civil engineers, and even landscape architects have not always done a good job of accommodating the realistic sizes of trees in urban and suburban areas. Mature tree size along with tree damage from weather, pests, and diseases are among the main reasons trees need pruning.

Beaver tree prunes several trees on a residential property in the Piedmont Triad area

Signs that a Tree Needs to Be Pruned

Some indicators that a tree should be pruned are pretty obvious – broken branches or a totally overgrown canopy are definitely in need of professional pruning. But other signs may not be as obvious to most people. Below, we’ve described the most common signs that it’s time to call in an arborist.

1 – The Tree’s Shape is “Off”

The first sign that you might need to prune your trees is when evaluating their overall form. While trees do best with early structural pruning to ensure a good mature form, periodic or corrective pruning may be needed on mature trees.

Look for these shape-related problems that indicate a need for pruning:

  • an uneven or unbalanced looking crown
  • side branches that have grown too large, too long, or too heavy (especially if they’re hanging over your roof!)
  • more than one central leader or main trunk

If you’re not sure how to evaluate your trees, we offer consultations and evaluations of your trees and their health.

2 – Visible Crown Damage

If your tree has visible damage, you’ll want to have the damaged areas pruned out and corrective pruning done as suggested by a professional. Any weakened or dead branches are a potential hazard if they fall, as falling branches can further injure the tree as well as whatever people or property those branches might fall on.

Here’s what to look for:

  • broken branches – either stubs left after a branch has broken off or branches that are broken but still hanging on
  • branches with areas of dieback

Beaver Tree reduces the canopy of a tree in Winston-Salem through proper pruning

3 – Unwanted & Unnatural Growth

Tree branches grow from their endmost point or tip and generally taper naturally as they spread outward from the tree’s main trunk. If you see branches that have been poorly pruned with heading cuts, the extra sprouting twigs and branches that form around a heading cut should be removed and the heading cut corrected. This is because the sprouting growth is weakly attached to the main branch and can drop at any time.

Other unwanted branch growth includes water sprouts or suckers: small shoots that grow vertically along a branch usually stimulated to grow in response to pruning cuts. These suckers, if left, will grow into branches in places and at angles that are detrimental to your tree’s structure, balance, and crown openness.

4 – Touching or Crowding Nearby Structures

If your trees are growing near fences, buildings, your neighbor’s house, or beneath overhead power lines, be aware of the need to prune for safety.

Large tree species should never be planted under power lines! But, if they are, the tree’s crown needs to be pruned to fit safely around the lines and avoid knocking out power in a storm.

It’s also important to keep branches away from fences, the sides of buildings, and away from windows to avoid storm damage. Branches rubbing against surfaces will abrade bark and damage the surface (which is not good if that surface is your siding or roof!). The damaged branches also give pests and diseases a way into your tree, leading to problems down the road.

If branches from your tree encroach onto your neighbor’s property, it’s best to prune them back. If a tree or branch is unhealthy or potentially unsafe AND is located where it could fall and damage property – or worse, injure or kill someone – that tree can be classified as a hazard. And you’re liable for any damage caused by a hazardous tree.

While we offer storm damage clean-up and emergency tree service, it’s always better to reduce the need for these by keeping your trees healthy and properly pruned.

5 – Neighborliness

In addition to potentially hazardous branches growing into your neighbor’s yard, you should prune your trees to minimize other issues caused by encroaching branches. Don’t let leaves and fruit or seed litter land on your neighbor’s property. They won’t be happy having to clean it all up and could blame you for the slip-and-fall hazards it creates.

Also, consider whether your trees have grown too large and cast too much shade on your neighbor’s house or have shaded out their prized plants. If so, you may want to reduce your trees’ crown sizes or thin their crowns by pruning.

6 – Poor Fruiting or Flowering

Trees may need some rejuvenation pruning if they are losing vigor but are not diseased or failing. Signs that your trees need pruning to stimulate new, vigorous growth include:

  • reduced fruiting and flowering
  • smaller fruit
  • branch dieback
  • a patchy crown of leaves

For fruit trees, in particular, it’s best to keep them pruned to a practical height. This will let easily reach the fruit by hand or from a stable orchard ladder.

7 – Pests and Diseases

If you notice that your trees have areas of damage caused by pests or diseases, you may need to remove the diseased growth or infested leaves and branches.

Some diseases, such as fireblight, start at the branch tips but will steadily continue down the branches unless it’s pruned off. It’s better to prune out and discard the first signs of damaged wood before an entire diseased branch needs to be removed.

For branches with insect damage, it’s best to identify the insects before branches are pruned out. Pruning is not the solution for all types of insect damage. In fact, pruning cuts may stress further an already stressed tree. If you’re not certain what’s causing the damage, call in a Certified Arborist for a tree inspection.

If you’re pruning diseased branches, follow sanitation procedures and sterilize your pruning blades between cuts to avoid spreading pathogens.

Beaver Tree prunes several oak trees in Winston-Salem in the winter

Prune Early for Long-Term Savings

The best insurance for a healthy, mature tree is to have it properly pruned when it’s young so that it can develop a sound branching structure. Then, as it matures, pruning can be kept to a minimum.

This is not only better for the tree, as each pruning cut is a wound the tree must seal off, but is also more economical. Corrective pruning and pruning large branches is more expensive and time-consuming than periodic pruning to refine a tree’s shape or to remove unwanted branches while they’re still small.

Need a Helping Hand?

It’s always good to consider the scope of a pruning job before embarking on it. Once you start pruning branches that are not accessible from the ground, you increase your risk of accidents and injury. You also increase the risk of damage to your tree if you aren’t versed in pruning techniques or if the branches you prune tear bark or break other branches as they fall.

We always advise homeowners to consider professional pruning before they get out their loppers. We offer a range of tree and shrub pruning services, and we can assess your trees and your garden to give you professional advice on how to care for your landscape.