When it comes to managing the size of your landscape trees, it's best to use a combination of planning annual pruning. Plan ahead by only planting trees that reach a mature size suitable for your yard, and then prune annually so they don't outgrow the space. Sometimes, though, you inherit trees with your home that are a bit too large for the space or haven't been trimmed recently. The following guide can help you manage this issue.

When should you prune for size reduction?

As a generalized rule, major pruning should take place in mid- to late-winter while the tree is still dormant and the sap isn't yet running. Then, as growth resumes in spring, the pruning wounds will rapidly heal. There are some exceptions. For example, flowering cherry and dogwood trees are better pruned in early summer after flowering. You may want to research your specific tree variety to ensure you prune at the right time.

What pruning is most necessary?

Before you can begin managing size, you must first manage density. Do this by going through and cutting out any broken or dead branches, taking them back to their base. Then, trim out crossed or rubbing branches, along with any weak, whip-like growth. The goal is to remove no more than a third of the branches in the canopy so that it is opened up to more sunlight and air circulation.

How is the size managed?

Two techniques are used to manage the canopy size – lifting and cutting back. Lifting is used to raise the canopy on trees that have developed branches too low on the trunk. The lower branches are cut off close to the trunk until only branches at the desired height remain. Cutting back controls the spread of the tree's canopy. The outer branches are cut back by up to a third of their length so the canopy isn't as wide. Make the cuts near a leaf bud to encourage fast healing.

Are there any concerns?

Trying to prune back too much too quickly can stress the tree. As a basic rule of thumb, never remove more than a quarter to a third of the tree's growth in a single season. This gives it time to recover. Badly overgrown trees may require pruning over several years to bring them back into shape. You should also monitor the tree closely for any signs of pests or diseases after a major trim and plan to have the tree treated immediately if you do spot a problem.

For more help, contact a tree maintenance service in your area.