When it comes to the basic needs of our trees, like water and fertilizer, we can confidently say that we can provide it to them. However, we may be missing something very important to trees—trimming. Trimming is as crucial as the other tree care to keep the health of a tree in top condition. While it can be challenging to perform the task, especially if it’s your first time, it is doable.

If you’re willing to do the task, here’s a simple step-by-step guide to pruning small trees.

When to and not to DIY tree trimming

If you’re looking to trim small branches from a small tree, by all means, do it! But if you will be required to climb a ladder to access the branches, or it’s close to utility lines, don’t even think about doing it. The job is just too risky and may put yourself in danger.


We will start with the proper way of trimming a single branch and discuss how to prune a small tree. In trimming a branch, you should:

  • Never use dull and rusty pruning tools.
  • Make sure you are well-versed with the different parts of the tree. The branch collar is found under the branch where it connects with the tree. This can be difficult to locate in some trees while easier on others. Another crucial part is the branch ridge, which is located somewhere between the branch and the trunk.
  • Look intently at the branch you will trim. Keep in mind that you want to make a cut just beyond the branch collar to avoid leaving a stub. Make sure you don’t cut too close the collar itself.
  • For a branch that is less than an inch in diameter, you can find trim it a little behind the branch collar. The cut should be made at a 45-60 degree angle.
  • Use the three-cut principle when cutting thicker branches. Cut halfway under the branch, about 10-15 inches from the branch collar. Then, move some inches from the initial cut and cut into the top of the branch. Finally, make the last cut beyond the branch collar.


Do the same procedure in cutting a branch when pruning a small tree. But other factors should be considered, such as the following:

  • Identify the branches you’ll trim and the ones you will keep. You can use the hands of a clock to help you determine the branches that should remain. If a branch is growing at a 10 o’clock or 2 o’clock angle from the trunk, you should keep this branch. Eliminate branches and limbs that are growing in all directions.
  • Know how much to trim. We don’t recommend trimming beyond 25% of the tree’s canopy at one trimming session.
  • Get rid of the growth at the lower portion of the trunk. Remove dead and damaged branches. Don’t forget to trim water sprouts or the weak branches that grow in clusters.
  • Prune limbs that compete with the leader branch in younger trees.
  • Lastly, prune the branches following the process mentioned above.

How Improper DIY Trimming Can Affect the Tree and Kill It

  • While one wrong cut will not entirely kill your tree, several wrong ones can.
  • Don’t cut away beyond 25% of a tree’s canopy in one cutting session because it can lead to its decline.
  • Another fatal error is damaging the branch collar. We always say this, and it is worth mentioning again- don’t cut through the branch collar. Hurting the branch collar will prevent the wound from healing and sealing properly. This could result in infection and decay that can also impact other trees in the area.
  • Finally, never make the mistake of topping a tree.

Why You Should Leave Trimming of Large Trees to a Professional

If you noticed, we only talked about trimming small branches in small trees. This is because we encourage you not to trim large trees.

It is never safe to prune heavy branches in tall trees. This will require you to climb a ladder to access the branches, and this is risky. You could lose your balance and fall to the ground and obtain injuries. If you don’t get a good grip of the branches, they can fall on your property and damage it. Professional tree companies should do large-scale tasks like these because they own the right equipment to complete the job. Large trees have heavy branches that can be difficult to cut for someone inexperienced. Attempting to take on a job like this can lead to injuries and damage to properties.

Contact Sam at Saints Tree Service Cleveland for more information about tree trimming and tree care in general.