When it comes to tree maintenance, there are two main tasks: trimming and pruning. Tree trimming is the process of removing excess branches from a tree, primarily to improve its esthetic appearance. Tree pruning, on the other hand, is the beneficial removal of dead branches or unwanted growth to improve the tree’s overall health. So when should you do each? Let’s look at the differences between tree trimming and tree pruning!

Tree Trimming

Trimming trees, shrubs, and hedges is done to change their shape, redirect their growth, and make them more attractive. Commercial clients frequently trim trees in order to make their property more visually appealing to potential customers. Though sometimes necessary, tree trimming is primarily a cosmetic procedure.

Trees or bushes can sometimes get out of hand and grow in the wrong direction. They may push up against electrical wires and cause fire hazards or cause damage to buildings. In these cases, trimming is often the required solution.

So, when should you trim your trees? If you’re simply removing dead or dying branches, you can do this at any time of year. However, if you’re looking to reshape the tree by cutting back the tree’s growth, it’s best to trim in late winter or early spring before new growth begins. This helps to ensure that the tree’s natural growth cycle isn’t unduly interrupted by a sudden loss of growing foliage, which can shock the tree and potentially damage it.

Tree Pruning

Pruning is a maintenance procedure that involves the strategic removal of branches or even roots. Dead branches and roots are a particular problem and may need to be removed from the tree to prevent potential disease, further damage from catastrophic breakage, or future insect infestation.

In some cases, pruning will also require the removal of green shoots or other new growth, in order to prevent overgrowth and allow the tree to focus its growth in a healthier way. The primary purpose of pruning is always to encourage the healthiest development of the tree being pruned.

By pruning, you are essentially giving the tree a highly-strategic “haircut”—removing the “dead ends” to encourage fresh growth. Pruning stimulates growth while allowing the arborist to monitor and influence the overall health of the tree, improving fullness and encouraging new growth in areas where the tree is sparse.

Pruning should be done when the tree is dormant, typically in late winter or early spring. This allows the tree to heal before new growth begins.

Whether one is trimming or pruning, it’s important to note that you should never remove more than ⅓ of the tree’s branches in any given year. Doing so can shock and damage the tree.


For both tree trimming and tree pruning, you’ll need a few tools:

  • gloves
  • saw, for thicker branches
  • hand shears or lopping shears, depending on thickness of cut

For trimming, shears, trimmers, and saws are utilized to provide efficient results and healthier growth overall. The type of tree will also dictate the equipment used.

Pruning generally requires ladders, hand shears, and saws to reach higher branches. When removing larger branches, a chainsaw may be necessary. Chipping away at the tree can be done with an ax or hatchet, though it’s not recommended since the misuse of such tools can potentially harm the tree.

Hiring a Professional

Hiring an arborist is always the best option if you’re not comfortable working with power tools around trees. A professional arborist will have the experience and knowledge necessary to safely and effectively trim or prune your trees. They will also have access to the specialized equipment needed to perform any such job safely and efficiently, such as bucket trucks, chippers, stump grinders, and more.

If you’re looking for an arborist to trim your trees or have any questions, contact Reaching Higher by calling 717-502-4707. We’ll determine whether trimming or pruning is required and provide professional results that will make a lasting difference in the health and beauty of your trees.