Five winter pruning mistakes to avoid now for gorgeous, healthy trees

Winter is the ideal time to prune. Trees are dormant and have no leaves, making it easy to see branches and make good cuts. Done correctly, winter pruning creates a burst of growth in the spring—in all the right places.

On the flip side, bad pruning sets a tree up for failure. Here are five common pruning mistakes and how to avoid them this winter:

This poor tree got topped.
This poor tree got topped.

1. Topping.

Your tree’s too tall, so you lop of the top. Eek! It’s a tree’s worst nightmare. Topping immediately weakens a tree and sends it into shock repair mode to regrow its main leader in multiple places, creating a burst of bushy growth—the exact opposite effect you desired (and it’s expensive to fix). Instead, trim strong lateral branches to reduce a tree’s overall size. Here’s a video that details the evils of topping.

2. Leaving branch stubs.

Stub cuts”—not pruning back to the branch collar (nearly the trunk)—leave trees with partially amputated limbs that don’t heal properly. This video details how to repair a stub cut.

3. Cutting too close to the trunk

Flush cuts” remove the branch collar, a tree’s natural protection boundary. Instead of cutting flush to the trunk, leave intact the branch bark ridge and collar where the branch meets the trunk.

Don't flush cut
Left: Improper flush cut. Right: Proper cut (branch collar intact).

4. Ripping bark.

Ouch. Heavy branches can fall and rip bark before you’re done making a clean cut. To avoid this, use a three cut method.

5. Not calling the pros.

If you’re sick, you call a doctor. If you’re unsure about your tree’s health, call a certified arborist. To make it easy, we’ve got a great list of partner arborists here.

For more pruning tips, advice and free permits for street tree pruning, check out the urban forestry divisions for your city—Portland, Vancouver or Eugene.