Tree Pruning

By Don Williams, "The Tree Wizard"


The owner is on all pruning and tree removal jobs and makes pruning and/or tree removal decisions. Each of my employees to date have a minimum of fourteen years working for me. I have 52 years in tree business and still have the motivation to do what is best for your trees and to consider your concerns.

On all pruning jobs I instruct which limbs to cut. I like making that decision as I am the one that discussed this with the customers and know of their concerns. I make sure stubs are removed and pruning cuts are painted. I go over the work multiple times to make sure the tree looks good. We then clean the yard, blow off roof and driveway and chip the brush. If needed, we blow out the debris from storm gutters.

There are many approaches to pruning and some companies just cut with no future purpose in mind. The objective of a proper pruning job is to do what is necessary for looks, future structure development and health, but not to remove excessive limbs and leaves. Leaves are the food processors. If the tree is stripped, as many/most do, it weakens the tree by failing to produce sufficient nutrients and sugar energy and opens the tree to health issues and harmful pathogens. Nature’s way has a correlation between the size of the tree and how many leaves it takes to process energy for the production of fruit and/or leaves. This is a great balancing act which determines the trees’ productive future and should not be altered by excessive stripping. Certified Arborist rules are to not strip or top trees as this is harmful to the health and prevents proper development of the tree. This usually occurs as most migrant workers do their yard mowing and customers then allow them to prune their trees. You have no idea how your trees will look upon completion. Also migrant employees without valid Social Security cards and who are paid cash for wages are not covered under Texas Workers Compensation plans. This is only mentioned to protect you, as the home owner is financially responsible for employee injuries and many tree men just say, “Yes, we are fully insured.” Get their certificate. If they have it they will always provide a copy at time of consultation. They usually say I forgot them or I just gave away my last one.

Workers Comp insurance is to protect the injured employee and the customer from claims of injury, disability or death. The premium is calculated by the total annual payroll of all employees. If some employees are paid cash this would mean/suggest the total premium was not paid and the insurance at the time of a claim would be nullified by fraud statutes. The customer at that point becomes liable for claims. That is what we are taught at our continuing education classes. This is why we give you a copy of our Workers Compensation insurance. Many trim live oak trees where the long limbs are stripped of all leaves leaving 3-6 feet of green only on tips of the long limbs. This is called manicuring and should never be done. It is proper to remove all dead or dying limbs from top to bottom. Dead limbs are usually attacked by borers or will rot. The deadwood is actually attached to the green part of tree. When the dead is not removed, this creates an issue where the non growing dead is in contact with the growing part of tree, opening separations where the tree can be exposed to borers or a disease causing pathogen.


When making pruning cuts we use two cuts to complete the process making the first cut about 6-12 inches from final cut. This is to prevent ripping the cut from the weight of the limb being removed. The next cut is at the inner upper edge of bark ridge of joint to complete limb removal with a smooth final cut. To keep the wound as small as possible you slightly angle your cut. Do not make a flush cut as it will be larger than needed and be cutting into/along the tree trunk. Basically cut just outside of flush. Most trimmers just make one cut which leaves improper cuts or rips that will not properly heal. Once cut that way it cannot be recut to correct the damage and will not heal properly or not at all. This is the beginning of cavities and allows pathogens to enter the damaged area of the tree.


I love the natural look of a tree so we prune for this purpose. When standing under a large live oak I like the appearance where the lowest limbs are 6-8-9 feet from ground, seven to eight feet to me is very good. Sometimes the previous pruning dictates this as it may have been previously stripped or raised too far from ground. When you have the giant live oak trees where the large lower limbs are laying on ground, it is best to leave those for multiple reasons.


Limbs rubbing on roofs damage shingles or rain gutter systems. We prune limbs, if possible, 4-6-8 feet above the hazard point. Sometimes we raise limbs so they are high enough to walk under. It depends on circumstances and the customers request. At times we can remove the smaller limbs from a long limb over the roof (reducing weight) and the limb rises to a safer height. Cutting limbs without a plan will result in a bad looking job. This is one of the many reasons I am on job site. There are decisions to be made many times a day.

Over edges of the roof we remove limbs to the correct height. On some smaller trees we cut straight up about 2-3 feet from the roof edge. The tree’s previous growth patterns and customers desires becomes the plan. Limbs from your tree or neighbor’s tree can be pruned to protect both houses.

Limbs over driveway need raising high enough to allow your RV, car or pickup to drive under without damaging the tree or vehicle. We do all these cuts properly and at the correct heights and with the approval of the homeowner. Limbs over streets need to be about 13-14-15 feet high over the street so most vehicles can pass under without damage to tree or vehicles. In Salado, in November 2018, a semi truck ripped off large limbs damaging the many live oak trees. Broken limbs were on the road or hanging from the trees for over a block. In Salado you have to maneuver around low hanging limbs when driving. The large historical live oaks are big and beautiful and do need some maintenance. Some trees overlap the plants and crepe myrtles which is normal. At times we can remedy this if needed. Methods are discussed. Never top crepe myrtles as we can restructure them. We do not excessively strip the inner part. On some trees we may remove inner small branches 2-4 feet from center trunk area. On larger trees we may remove the inner small branches to about 4-6-8 feet from center trunk area trying not to have a stripped appearance. This is discussed with the homeowner.

Upon completion we recut the older stubs where possible and newer stubs then paint all the cuts well. I always go over the pruning process several times to make sure it is balanced and presentable.

Have any questions about this tree topic? Give Big Country Trees a call at (512)983-4148.