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Difference Between Trimming and Pruning Difference Between Trimming and Pruning

What's the Difference Between Tree Trimming and Pruning?

Trimming trees doesn’t have to be as much of a chore as you think. With regular attention to your property’s landscaping, including your trees, you can keep it looking beautiful and the plants happy and healthy. Here's how to get started trimming trees, and everything you'll need to keep them healthy year after year.

Trimming vs. Pruning and Why You Should Pay Attention to Your Trees


While you may use “trimming” and “pruning” interchangeably, the landscaping industry actually divides these terms into two different methodologies. “Trimming” is focused on removing branches in order to promote healthy growth of the plant. When you’re “pruning” a plant, you’re removing unnecessary branches for aesthetics, or visual appeal.

For example, you might prune a shrub in order to create a more pleasing overall shape – in the extreme this might be an elaborate topiary that looks like an animal, or a perfect rectangle. You also could prune branches if your shrub or tree is lopsided due to previous damage. If you were trimming a tree or shrub, however, you’re concerned with removing dead or sick branches, improving airflow within the area of the plant, or removing branches that could fall and damage overhead wires or a structure.

Both plant trimming and pruning have an important role to play in the health of your landscaping, just with different goals in mind.

When to Trim


Winter and early spring are great times to tackle that tree trimming item on your To Do list. First, without your front yard live oak's leaves (or other deciduous trees) in the way, you can really see where all your branches are heading – this goes for fruit trees too. Even if your trees don’t lose their leaves, the dormant season is still a good time. This way you can cut away the right branch that’s crowding the rest of the tree. And second, whatever cuts you make will bounce back while the plant is still dormant and before it has to suffer through harsh cold (or heat) for a whole season. Finally, you can increase your home’s curb appeal and protect your property from damage caused by dead or damaged tree limbs during spring storms.

Tools Needed for Trimming and Pruning Trees


At a minimum, you’ll need some kind of cutting tool for pruning or tree trimming. The bigger the branch, the more robust a tool required. For small branches about the diameter size of a quarter, a simple pair of pruning shears might be enough. But if you’re tackling a large, mature tree, you’ll want one or more of the following tools:

Gas or electric chainsaws could be used to complete a tree trimming or pruning project, but often aren’t needed unless your tree is especially large, or you want to quickly saw cut limbs into pieces for firewood. For pruning fruit trees or shrubs, often the best tool is the one that will allow you to make precise, clean cuts to avoid damaging branches you want to keep.

Remember These Trimming Safety Tips


  1. Always remember gloves, eye protection, etc.: Safety first. When branches are falling and power tools are cutting, you want to make sure your eyes, hands, ears, and anything else that could get in the way, are protected.
  2. Use the three-cut method: A simple way to make sure you remove the branch without harming the tree is the “three-cut method.” Start with an undercut on the bottom of the branch about a third of the way through. Second, cut downwards slightly further out from the trunk to remove the limb. Third, remove the “stump” of the branch that is remaining, being careful to not cut the branch’s bark ridge on top of the limb near the trunk or the branch collar on the bottom between the limb and trunk. (More on collars, below.)
  1. Don't cut into the branch bark collar: The branch bark collar is key if you want to maintain a healthy tree after trimming. The collar of a branch contains special chemicals that will help the tree heel after it loses a branch. Avoid cutting into the branch past this point, so that the tree can more easily repair itself from the cut.
  2. Try not to let your feet leave the ground: If you can get by without a ladder or step, don’t use one. When you’re focused on your own balance as well as wielding a sharp tool, you often can make missteps and cause damage. If you can use long tools designed for tree trimming, such as lopping shears or a pruning saw, you can likely reach the intended branch easily.
  3. Be careful of power lines: Always note the location of power lines overhead before you start your tree trimming project. If a falling branch could become tangled in the lines, you could do damage or start fires. You don’t want to be notorious in your neighborhood for knocking out power during the big game, either! Call a professional if the job seems too complex and let a certified arborist do the job.

Start Your Tree Trimming with a Trip to McCoy's


Ready to knock this off your To Do list? Our experts can advise you on the right tools for your tree trimming or pruning project, and make sure you don’t bite off more than you can…saw.