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The Best How-to DIY Tree Trimming Tips from Arborists

DIY Tree Trimming Tips

Disclaimer: The best advice we can give is to call a professional – for your own safety, for the safety of others and for the health of your tree. Every year homeowners and professionals are hurt and killed doing this work because it can be very dangerous.

Vista Tree staff have undergone extensive formal and on-the-job training, receive yearly professional development and use the latest tools, safety equipment and techniques to stay safe. When you work with us, you can rest assured because we’re insured! When you work alone, or with uninsured or untrained companies, you don’t know what you may be getting into.

DIY tree trimming gets us a lot of work, usually when the client has cut partway through the tree and realized they’ve made a mistake. Sometimes it’s just the realization that cleaning up an entire tree is a lot of work. The following is not advice, we recommend you call a professional.

If you’re absolutely certain that your DIY tree trimming project is small enough and safe enough for you to handle, there are some things you should know.

1. Does proper pruning damage trees?

Pruning is a safe and effective way to keep trees healthy, safe and beautiful. When done by a qualified arborist, it will not damage the tree. There are many, many guidelines and best practices to proper tree pruning — too many to summarize in a basic blog post.

The biggest things to keep in mind are:

  • Don’t take too much
  • Anything you do is permanent
  • Trees cannot heal themselves
  • Make proper cuts

If you cut too much off, cut off something important (like the top of the tree), or make a bad cut that rips the bark, you will damage the tree in ways that can’t be fixed. Trees cover over wounds, but once they have been damaged the damage is done. The bigger the wound the more likely it will rot and spread through the tree.

That’s why it’s important to understand some basic tree biology and have a plan before you begin you DIY tree trimming.  Here are some great places to learn about trees and what proper pruning or trimming involves:

Arborist in Scarborough oak tree trimming tree

2. What is the best time of year to prune?

Many trees can be pruned year-round, and Vista Tree works through the winter on tree pruning and removal. Oak trees in Toronto are one species that should only be pruned in off seasons due to the threat of oak wilt and becoming infected. Oak wilt is devastating oaks in the USA, and it is on its way here. Pruning in the winter keeps oak trees safer from this disease. If you’re doing DIY tree trimming, you’re probably safer to do your pruning in the spring or summer to avoid icy and cold conditions. If you’re thinking of pruning an oak tree, however, you should either wait or call a professional. Research the tree you’re planning on trimming before you cut to see if there are any pests or diseases that it may be vulnerable to if you start cutting.

3. Can trees be killed by too much pruning?

Yes. Tree trimming requires training and knowledge.

When trimming a tree, removing too much from the tree will cause many problems. Few people know that trees never heal from wounds: they seal over and contain any damage and decay caused by the wood. If a wound is too large or poorly formed, it will be hard for the tree to seal.

Cutting a lot off a tree when trimming it can result in stress to the tree. Trees need leaves to produce energy to keep themselves alive. Some of the energy generated through the leaves and sunlight is used by the branch, and a small amount is used by the whole tree. Removing too much from tree or branch can cause serious problems for the remaining branches and limbs as their supply of energy is reduced.

There is a tipping point — after you cut too much off a tree, it cannot recover from the injuries and the lost energy from the leaves and branches you cut off.

If you’re going to trim your own small tree, start very small and make a few well-selected cuts. If you’re looking to prune larger branches, you should call a professional.

Arborists cannot undo damage already caused to a tree, and often we are called only when it is too late. Green, or fresh, wood is very heavy, and removing large limbs is dangerous to do without training and proper equipment. Many people are injured every year in tree trimming accidents. Avoid being one of them, and contact us for a free tree pruning estimate and consultation.

4. What Equipment Do I Need?

For small projects, you’re going to need a green wood hand saw like a Silky Zubat, and a pair of bypass pruners like Felco #2s. You should always wear cut-resistant gloves, a hard hat, steel toe boots and eye protection while trimming trees. People greatly underestimate the weight of wood, especially with leaves and a heavy, pointed end falling down towards you.

Even small branches can easily fall and cause significant damage to your eyes, head or feet if they are unprotected. If using a chainsaw, steel toe boots, chainsaw pants or chaps, ear protection, eye protection, gloves and helmet are required. We do not recommend or advise using a chainsaw. If you were to, do not use a chainsaw alone, on a ladder, and without proper knowledge or instruction.

Lastly, if you cannot safely reach from the ground what you are planning to trim, call a professional. There are commercially available pole pruners or pole saws for purchase at major retailers like Lowe’s and Home Depot and these are options for small branches out of reach but relatively close to the ground. Lastly, you may think its a great option, but putting a ladder against a tree and cutting branches is a very bad idea.

5. Why is tree trimming important?

Since you likely came here looking for DIY tree trimming services in Toronto, you may already know that pruning is the best way to keep your tree looking good, safe and healthy.  Many large dead and broken limbs hanging in trees can be hazardous if people or pets are underneath the trees on a regular basis. 

Trees growing in the urban environment are subjected to a lot of stress, but also lots sunlight. They may become overgrown, over-extended overtop of your house, or have too many branches and limbs to grow properly into the future. 

DIY tree trimming can be a way to handle a small problem you may have, like a branch that sticks out onto a path, but if you find yourself cutting the tree over and over again, it would be best to call in an arborist. We often get called to work on trees that clients have been cutting themselves for years.

Frequently, this DIY tree trimming has caused wounds and rot in the tree, or resulted in large bare patches in the tree that cannot be fixed by pruning. These issues could have been addressed with a quick, inexpensive visit. Small jobs to remove a few branches can be done at low cost every couple of years, preserving the look and value of the tree without compromising your safety.

If you’d like advice on tree trimming, or if you started a DIY Tree Trimming project and want some help – give us a call at 416-858-5466 or contact us for a free consultation.