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Give your trees a healthy headstart to spring by pruning large branches now with the simple three-step method.

pruning trees, three cut methodThe three-cut method. Photo: KTesh, Flickr

Looking forward to lush green leaves and spring blossoms on your trees? You might have to give them a few good, healthy chops first.

In order to encourage healthy, hearty growth and maintain the structure of your trees, you should prune often and early. Late winter/early spring -- before the first sprouts emerge -- is the perfect time to lop of weak or dead branches.

There are many ways to prune a tree, but there's only one foolproof method that prevents surviving branches from developing fungus and makes sure the bark stays intact and the tree's structural tissue isn't damaged: it's called the three-cut method.

Many arborists swear by the three-cut method of pruning trees. Brian Sayers, president of New York State Arborists and owner of The Tree Doctor in Clarence, N.Y., won't let his employees trim trees any other way. Sayers believes that the three-cut method is safer, because it lets you gently eliminate the majority of the limb before making the final cut at the limb's base. "All the weight [of the limb] is gone and you can concentrate on the [final] cut," explains Sayer.

Here's how the three-cut method works:

pruning trees, three cut method
1. Begin by cutting a notch into the weakened limb about five or six inches inches before the spot where you intend the final cut to be. Make the cut half an inch deep.

2. For the second cut, move out an inch or two away from the trunk and cut intil the joint snaps and the majority of the limb falls off. Tree limbs are heavy, so the first cut acts to prevent the limb from tearing stem tissue as it comes off.

3. The third cut is the most important. Here are you are attacking the raised, rough stub, which is called a bark tear. The goal is to remove it completely so that the "wound" is clean and there is hardly any raised surface area. To do this, locate the "collar" where the limb meets the trunk. Cut about a quarter inch away from this area, because the tissue in this region is crucial to help the tree heal from the cut you've just made. "If you don't find the branch collar, the tree will start to rot," cautions Sayers. "Follow the angle of the branch collar so it will produce new wood. Otherwise, [the tree will] get fungi."

In this video, you'll see exactly how to prune small and large limbs on a tree. Want to see the three-cut method? Skip to 1:35.

Sayers offers three additional safety tips to ensure you won't damage yourself in the process:

tree pruning tools(Top) A long-handled pole saw. Photo: Fanno. (Bottom) A chainsaw that's perfect for pruning trees. Photo: Stihl

1. Use the right tools. Sayers recommends a Fanno hand saw or pole saw, or a chainsaw by either Stihl or Husqvarna.

2. Do not use a ladder, no matter how short you are or how high up the affected branch is. "The branch can come down on the ladder and [cause you to] fall off the ladder," says Sayers.

3. Do not cut while holding the saw above you. This applies to both handheld and chain saws. "You can't control the cut as well," says Sayers.

Got any tree-pruning tips? Share them in the comments below!

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  • Doo Next

    Great tips! Now is the time to start the late winter / early spring pruning before the plant growth really kicks in. So you don't forget with your busy schedule set up a do list and schedule your pruning ASAP.

  • Toni

    I can't wait till spring. I love working in my garden.

  • 2 Comments / 1 Pages

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