First, ask ‘why’ instead of ‘how to’ prune.
Trees, like people, should routinely have ‘check-ups’. However, they don’t necessarily need ‘surgery’ annually. Removing limbs has unseen outcomes. Pruning reduces a tree's ability to make food for itself, so it must use stored energy in the roots to replace what was lost, causing a deficit in the short term. This leaves less energy to defend itself and perform other growth functions. Excessive and incorrect pruning of live growth makes a tree vulnerable to drought, disease, insect infestation and sunburned bark. Over-pruning also decreases wildlife cover, food, and nesting sites. Being clear about your goals helps answer the question ‘why’ prune. Do you want to reduce the crown or raise it? Perhaps decrease shade? Stay clear of a power line? Improve a view? Are tree roots damaging your driveway or sidewalk?
Second, hire professionals only.
An International Society of Arboriculture Certified Arborist can assess your tree’s health and advise if your tree should be pruned now based on your goals. Be sure to specifically ask what’s best for your tree. While pruning can be done any time, it is best to avoid hot dry periods and extreme winter cold. The professional arboriculture industry states that wound closure is generally maximized if pruning takes place before the spring growth flush, and winter pruning results in vigorous burst of new growth in the spring. But whenever you decide to prune make sure the workers you hire have three things: proper insurance including Workers Comp Liability, a proper local business license and certification by the industry.
Third, safeguard the value of your tree.
It’s not exactly the first thought that comes to mind is it? If your tree is healthy and in a suitable location it is an economic asset and provides diverse benefits far beyond the obvious such as beauty and shade. Scientific studies keep adding to our awareness of the regional and global value of trees, as well as how they contribute to human health and emotional wellness. Here is a link that will provide the jaw-dropping benefits now recognized. With a better understanding of the benefits and need for trees, you will have a new appreciation of your tree’s potential. You may even wonder if humans should need a permit to own one! We’re kidding of course, but we hope you see our point. Trees are mute, can’t choose their location, owners, or tree care providers so they need an informed buyer and a good steward.
One of the often-overlooked values of trees is birds. Birds have formed a reliance on trees for millions of years and provide many ecosystem services that also benefit humans. For this reason, please consider the impacts of tree care on them and other wildlife, particularly in spring and summer when most are breeding. Our climate is changing, and some species are extending or delaying reproduction. It is possible that a bird may be raising a family in your tree in Fall. A pre-work check for active nests is good stewardship. Do check out the resources on our website to learn more about how to avoid impacting nesting birds during tree care.
Thanks for this advice for pruning trees. You mentioned you should try to get a certified arborist. I’m interested to learn if some arborists can be certified or specialize in taking care of certain trees.