October 1st, 2015

Contrary to what some might believe, pruning is more than cutting off a few branches. Out of all the home renovation and landscaping projects homeowners can undertake, pruning is the most economical way of increasing the curb appeal of your home.

Pruning is typically not an expensive process and after the first major pruning of a neglected yard, it can be done every other year at a reduced cost.

Pruning does require significant knowledge of not only what to remove, but how to properly perform the cuts. In the hands of an amateur, pruning can distress a tree and remove any potential the tree has for life-long beauty. The difference between using an expert pruner versus a weekend warrior is night and day.

Here are some tips on the best times to prune for different tree species:

  • Fruit trees are best pruned when near dormancy: late fall, winter, and very early spring.
  • In Alberta, although elm trees can be removed at any time of the year, they can only be pruned from October 1 to March 31.
  • Birch and maple are best pruned when in full leaf.
  • Mountain ash, mayday trees, willow and coniferous trees such as spruce and pine can be pruned at any time.
  • Spray products to protect cuts are not required.

30% Rule
When pruning a tree there is a 30% rule: that is, trees should not be pruned more than 30% of their total volume in a single season. Pruning over this amount causes a great deal of stress to the tree. So for the first pruning of a mature tree that has not been taken care of, the priorities are: remove the disease (if any), remove any dead limbs, and then thin the branches. If the 30% rule has not been reached at this point, then the tree can be shaped.

Newly Planted Trees
Most homeowners may not be aware that a great time to prune a tree is when it's still new. When the tree is smaller, it's an opportune time to create the tree's lifetime shape, ensuring that unwanted branches do not turn into main branches later in life.

Drop, Don't Top
Topping a tree (cutting off the top of a tree) can be one of the worst things to do for tree health. It nearly always makes the tree look worse, and it can eventually even cause the tree to die. Plus, topping a tree can be nearly as expensive as removing it. If a tree is too tall and is causing problems, what we often recommend is to completely remove the tree, grind the stump out to a two-foot depth, and replant the perfect tree in its place.

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