How to tell if a tree needs pruning

tree needs pruning

Do you wonder if your trees need pruning? I have a tall red oak in my backyard that had a large, dead, hanging branch, high up in the tree. During storms, other smaller branches that appeared dead would fall.

It made me wonder, how healthy is this tree? Is it a hazard to me or my close neighbors?  I decided to investigate my options around pruning the tree, and here, I share what I have learned.

Main reasons to consider pruning a tree

Get rid of weak areas and hazards

Does your tree seem like a hazard because of weak branches, cracks, or other issues that you can see? This is the number one reason to get a tree inspected and pruned.

Strengthen a tree

Do you want to make sure that your tree is as healthy as possible? Pruning a tree can make a tree stronger by shaping the tree in a way that promotes a stronger structure.


Do you want your tree to grow in a balanced way and have a natural tree form that is aesthetically pleasing? Pruning lets you control the shape of the tree.

More sunlight

Do you have a tree that blocks light? You can consider pruning the tree to thin the tree canopy and let more light through it.

Doing it yourself

There’s a real science to pruning a tree. After studying up on this subject, I personally wouldn’t recommend clipping a tree, even a small one, without first learning how to do it properly. Pruning a tree in the wrong way can cause damage to the tree, including rot.

But, you can do it, and there are great resources out there to help you learn how. Here’s a great guide from the town of Parker in Colorado on how to prune a tree.

Make sure that you are pruning the tree in the right way and in the right season. The best time to prune a tree is during its dormant period, usually during the winter months.

Hiring a professional

You may want to consider hiring a professional for these reasons:

  1. Safety – if your tree is large, like mine is, you may not want to risk injury by doing it yourself
  2. Tools – you may not want to invest in the tools needed to prune trees, especially large trees that require chainsaws (!)
  3. Liability – if your trees are close to the neighbor’s yard, you may not want to risk damage to their property by doing it yourself, and it may be better to have a tree pruner who is fully experienced and properly insured
  4. Knowledge – You may not want to invest the time in getting the knowledge to successfully prune a tree.

My experience

Since my tree is 50 feet tall, and I was not about to scale it myself nor try to operate a chainsaw while climbing a tree, the only option for me was hiring a professional. Still, I was nervous about the cost.

From a recommendation from my neighbor, Jimmy, I called Urban Arborists. Bill Logan, the owner, came out to look at it and give me an estimate. Bill has a very impressive resume as a local tree expert and I appreciated his advice.

The estimate came in at $900 which seemed like a lot of money. But, after seeing how much effort and manpower went into pruning the tree, I feel it was a completely reasonable price. You can see my video below that shows the process and results.

The hanging branch I had was a real threat, and I felt I had to deal with it before anything bad happened. So I bit the bullet and scheduled the tree to be pruned.

About a month later, Urban Arborists’ crew of four guys came out and got to work. First, one man put on climbing gear for safety and shimmied up the tree with a chainsaw hanging from his belt, supported by, and hooking into ropes that had been thrown around the tree’s center, tallest branches. Three men stayed on the ground, directing the falling branches, sawing them up into manageable pieces and carrying them out to the front of the house.

An impressive operation! Considering the risk and effort, I actually felt like a got a bargain – after all, these guys have a lot of equipment and have to carry a lot of insurance.

Here’s a video of the process.

A side benefit of having the tree pruned was learning more about my tree. The tree is about 50 years old and is likely to grow another 30 feet. It’s a healthy tree and should live a nice, long life.

In summary, the process of pruning cleared out a lot of the bulk of the lower part of the tree while leaving the smaller branches at the top untouched. The tree looks safe and strong now and I don’t think I’ll be worrying about damage to myself, my neighbors or my house during coming storms. Plus, I should have a lot more light in my yard this summer since the tree was thinned out a bit!

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