Natural target pruning can strengthen trees, improving their health and form. Dead, dying or broken branches should be removed. If an excessive amount of living branches are removed, the tree will decline and could die. Do not apply any paint or dressing to wounds as this interferes with a tree's natural healing process. With proper pruning, a wound will seal quickly and blend perfectly with the tree bark.

Caution: Pruning a tree can be hazardous to you and your property. If you have any doubts about your ability to prune heavy branches, contact a New Jersey Certified Tree Expert (NJCTE).

Tree Pruning & Safety Tips

The Shade Tree Commission suggests the following safety tips and guidelines for pruning trees.

  • Use hand tools you are comfortable with.
  • Keep all cutting tool edges sharp - hand pruner, hand saw, pole clip and pole saw. Have several tools available and exchange periodically for a sharper one. Dull, poorly maintained tools can cause accidents and make hard work harder.
  • Avoid reaching and holding a branch to be cut with your free hand and cutting it with a tool in the other hand; it is easy to cut yourself. Wear protective gloves and keep your branch-holding hand as far away from the cutting tool as possible.
  • The proper glove can improve your grip when using hand tools.
  • Stay alert when pruning trees and shrubs. Be aware of the following hazards: electrical conductors, utility lines, bees'/wasps' nests and protruding roots and holes.
  • Learn to identify and take proper precautions if you are susceptible to poison ivy.
  • Before performing pruning work in high grasses and vegetation, learn about Lyme disease and take the necessary precautions to avoid contracting it: dress properly, use repellents, inspect yourself during and after the day for ticks, look closely wherever clothing is constricted or ended and at hairlines and scalp.
  • Schedule pruning work as early in the day as possible to take advantage of cooler temperatures.

Tree Pruning Safety Recommendations

  • Power tool use is not encouraged.
  • Low-hanging branches must be pruned and removed to a minimum height of 8 to 10 feet when they interfere with pedestrian and vehicular traffic.
  • The optimum time for large branch pruning is the winter, or early spring before bud break. Other times for pruning include midsummer and after leaf fall.
  • Avoid pruning during bud swelling, leaf emergence and obvious flowering and also into late summer or during leaf fall. Spring pruning just after budbreak is discouraged, as tree bark is softer, more tender and is easily damaged.
  • Anvil types of hand pruning tools are strongly discouraged due to the "crushing" action of the blade onto the flat or anvil cutting surface. Bypass hand-cutting tools are recommended for all woody live plant tissue removal.
  • Pruning to "natural targets" is using current scientific knowledge when removing live and dead wood/branches from trees. Please see the diagram, which depicts "natural target" pruning techniques. It is noted to expect some variation to the "branch collar" and "branch bark ridge" and the final "target" for branch removal, even on the same tree. The key is to hit the "target".

Steps to Natural Target Pruning

Natural Target Pruning

Pruning Living & Dead Branches

Figure A depicts a typical branch and its attachment to the tree trunk. A proper pruning cut will start just above the branch bark ridge and angle away from the branch collar, as indicated by the dotted line. This will prevent injury to both the branch bark ridge and branch collar and allow the wound to heal quickly.

Figure B portrays the same concept using a pair of shears on a small branch.

Figure C refers to large branches, which because of their weight could rip away the bark below the intended cut. The first cut, as shown, should be through the bark on the bottom of the branch. The second cut is made above the first cut and will separate the branch from the tree. The final cut would follow the dotted line as shown.