How to Cut a Limb from a Tree

Improperly cutting a large limb from a tree can tear away a long strip of bark and wound the tree. You can avoid pruning damage by making the cut properly as described below.

Steps

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    Plan your cut. Decide which branch(es) you will cut and where. You may wish to cut a branch for aesthetic reasons (because it overhangs something or grows in a direction it shouldn't) or because branches are rubbing or damaged.
    • If you have any doubts about which branches to cut or how to cut them safely, hire a tree service.
    • Prune branches smaller than about 5cm (2 inches) in diameter with bypass loppers. Use the technique below for larger branches.
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    Cut the limb from the underside about 1/2 way through but stop before the saw binds. This cut should be made at ‘A’ in the picture above.
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    Make a second cut at ‘B’, slightly further out on the limb and from the top.
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    Allow the branch to break free and fall under its own weight.
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    Cut the remaining stub off from ‘E’ to ‘F’,(to prevent tearing the bark make a small cut at 'F' first) make the cut close to the main trunk.
    • Don't cut into the "branch collar" of the limb being removed. This will actually inhibit healing.
    • Search "branch collar" images on your browser if you have trouble seeing it. The branch collar can be identified on most trees as a bulge where the limb meets the trunk but can be hard to see on young trees or trees that grow slowly.
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    Cut flush with the outer edge of the branch collar, and healing will proceed much faster.
    • Save your money, use clean, sharp tools and don't paint the cut. At one time it was common practice to paint tree cuts, but it's been shown to harm trees more than help.[1] Leave the wound free to dry naturally.
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Tips

  • Fall and winter are the best times to prune trees because that is when they are dormant. However, spring flowering trees can be pruned immediately after blooming and summer flowering trees can be pruned before new growth begins.
  • It may help to remove very large branches in multiple pieces to help make them easier to control.
  • Maple, birch, dogwood, and elms will "bleed" sap which is unsightly, but harmless to the tree.[2]

Warnings

  • Work with a partner if the limbs are large.
  • Remember that branches are springy and be prepared for them to bounce somewhat when they fall.
  • Be careful to avoid cutting yourself when using a saw.
  • Wear gloves and eye protection.
  • Use ladders safely, if needed.
  • Make sure that no one is standing in the way of falling branches, and that falling branches won't hit anything important.

Sources and Citations

  • Kains, M.G. (1935). Gardening Short Cuts. New York and Cleveland: World Publishing Company - Book in public domain. Copyright not renewed.

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