When to Prune Pine Trees: A Guide on Pine Pruning Cycles and Practices

When to Prune Pine Trees: A Guide on Pine Pruning Cycles and Practices

When everything appears dead and desolate, there’s one tree that remains full of life. Pine trees are incredibly tough trees that sport their lively green needles year-round.

People love pine for the splash of color it adds to the landscape and the shade they provide during the summer months. Like with any tree, pine trees also need a little maintenance.

The key to keeping these trees healthy and great-looking is knowing how to properly care for them. Do you want to keep your pine trees looking great all year round? Here’s everything you need to know about how and when to prune pine trees.

Identifying Pine Trees

Pines come in several forms including trees and shrubs. There are over 100 different pine tree species around the globe.

They have a woody appearance with lots of dense needle-covered branches. These waxy needle-shaped leaves are a deep green when healthy and turn bright orange when they die.

Many pine trees feature a signature cone shape that helps the branches bear the weight of the snow during the winter months. Each year, healthy pine trees will grow a ring of new branches at the top of the tree.

These sturdy trees thrive in colder climates and soils with few nutrients. You’ll find pine trees almost exclusively in the northern hemisphere. Pines have thick bark that helps protect their woody tissue in the event of a forest fire.

The paper and timber industries use pine trees for construction and paper. If you visit some of the forests in the Midwest, you can see the remaining trees these industries planted in the past.

Today, many people in the northern parts of the United States have pine trees in their yards and properties. These trees are a natural way to add shade and improve the look of your yard. If you have pine trees, there are a few tips you should follow to keep them healthy.

Pruning vs Trimming Pine Trees

Pruning and trimming are two tree maintenance practices that many use interchangeably. They have a few similarities such as cutting and removing branches from the tree. What many people find surprising is these two practices are quite different.

Pruning focuses on removing any branch or branches that are no longer healthy. This includes removing dead, infected, and loose branches that don’t add any value to the respective tree. The main objective of pruning is to promote the health of the tree.

Trimming is the practice of controlling the growth of a tree by cutting healthy and unhealthy branches. The goal of trimming is to prevent the tree from overgrowing and promote the pine tree’s natural beauty.

Is your goal is to simply keep your pine tree healthy? Then you’ll want to opt for tree pruning over trimming.

Benefits of Pruning Pine Trees

Pruning pine trees is necessary to ensure the health of the tree along with other foliage and buildings in your yard. Ignoring an infected or dying branch can cause disease and problems to spread to other plants.

Storm Damage Protection

Pine trees are just as susceptible to storm damage as any other tree or plant.

Dead, dying, and infected tree branches can pose a danger to you and your home. When branches die or have an infection, they become weak.

This weakness will cause them to eventually break and fall, potentially damaging your house or your car. In some cases, a falling branch can cause serious harm to you or your family.

Keep your yard and property safe by pruning and removing any dead, dying, or damaged branches on your pine trees. You should do your best to remove damaged branches as soon as you can. Pruning any unhealthy branches will prevent them from damaging other plants and trees in your yard.

Control Pests and Insects

Pine trees can experience infection and damage from several sources. One of the most prevalent causes is invasive insects and pests. Pruning your pine tree’s infected branches will better manage insects and pests on your property.

Tent worms love building their white whispy nests on pine trees. They will colonize the branches and spread them to other trees and plants on your property. The worms won’t directly kill your trees and plants but they can weaken them and damage branches.

These pests can work their way into your home. Pine trees that are close to your home are likelier to pass unwanted insects onto your house.

Prevent Branch Rubbing

While rare, pine trees can grow branches that start to rub on another branch. When this happens, the protective bark will rub off, creating open wounds that invite disease, pests, and infection.

If you notice any branches rubbing on your pine trees, you should have one of the branches removed. Either you or a professional tree pruning service can decide which branch should go.

Ensure Proper Growth

Pine trees require a little maintenance to ensure they grow well. Pruning growing trees that are young or mature will improve their strength and overall health.

Structural pruning of younger pine trees offers the greatest long-term benefits. This type of pruning assists with managing the tree’s shape. Pine trees that lose their shape will lose their structural integrity and become more susceptible to damage.

Keep Your Tree Healthy

Healthy trees will live longer with fewer problems. By pruning any damaged, dying, or infected branches, you’re investing in the longevity of your pine trees. Healthy trees look better and won’t cause any harm to your home, family, or your yard.

When to Prune Pine Trees

Are you sold on the benefits of pruning pine trees? That’s excellent! Before you start hacking away at any dying branch, you need to know about pruning cycles.

There are times during the year that are better for pruning pine trees. Late winter through spring is typically the best time to prune pine trees. This gives the tree plenty of time to heal before the winter season.

Pruning your pine trees in the spring promotes new growth. Branches and areas you prune will grow new shoots that will fill in those bald areas.

You should always try to avoid pruning your pine trees during the fall and late summer. The cuts won’t have enough time to heal before the winter. Tree coverings and wound dressings won’t sufficiently protect the tree’s sensitive wood from the winter elements.

Depending on the situation, any time (except for the fall) is a good time to prune your pine tree. You should remove damaged or dead branches as soon as you notice them. Again, this is to promote the safety and protection of your home, yard, and family.

In the spring, pine trees start producing pine candles. These are new upright offshoots that grow at the ends of the branches. Pruning these shoots will help your pine tree maintain its healthy compact shape and prevent overgrowing.

Your professional arborist will offer the best service and advice about when to prune pine trees.

Tree Pruning Tools

Pruning tools come in a variety of sizes and lengths to fit any tree pruning need. Here’s a look at the different pruning tools available.

Hand Pruner

Hand pruners are ideal for thing branches about 1 inch in diameter or less. Look for bypass hand pruners with curved blades that cut like scissors.  Bypass pruners result in a cleaner cut.


Also known as lopping shears, a lopper is ideal for cutting branches with a diameter of around 2 inches. Some loppers will have different size specifications and come with bypass blade options. These are similar to hand pruners but may have an extra gear function to increase the cutting power.

Pruning Saw

Pruning saws are best for branches that are 3 inches in diameter, although some saws can cut through slightly larger branches. Pruning saws consist of tempered long-lasting metal blades that cut on both the pull and push strokes.

Pole Pruner

Pole pruners are your solution to cutting branches that are beyond your reach. They have longer handles and can easily prune branches up to 2 inches in diameter. Look for pole pruners with interchangeable cutting tools to offer you more versatility.

Professionals will use many of these pruning tools to safely and efficiently prune pine trees. These tools are also kept clean and sharp to prevent cutting fatigue or damaging the tree.

How to Safely Prune Pine Trees

Pruning trees requires some practice and patience. There are a few best practices you should follow when pruning your trees to keep your tree strong structurally sound.

Start by identifying the branch or branches that you need to prune. These should be branches that are dead or have sustained damage or infection.

To cut the branches, you’ll need hand pruners, a pole pruner, or a pruning saw. Pick the right tool based on the branch size and location.

If you don’t have the experience or skills to use these tools, you should contact your local tree care specialist. Improper use of these tools can jeopardize your health and safety.

Sterilize your cutting tools with methyl alcohol. Sterilizing your tools will reduce infection and help the cut heal.

Making the Cut

When you cut the branch, you want to cut along the collar of the branch. The collar is the thick area where the branch connects with the tree trunk. You or your tree specialist can use hand pruners to cut the branch.

For larger branches with a diameter greater than an inch, you’ll need to follow a three-cut process.

Make the first cut about a foot or so away from the trunk. Start cutting from the bottom and work your way up, cutting halfway through the branch width. Then stop.

Make the second cut an inch or two further out from the first cut. You can cut from top to bottom all the way through the branch. This practice prevents the branch from harming the tree’s trunk.

After you remove the majority of the branch, you can now remove the branch stump. Carefully cut it flush to the branch’s collar and not the trunk. The collar usually has a slight angle that juts outward from the trunk.

The pine tray may bleed sap for a brief period of time, depending on the time of year. Pruning in spring will typically cause more sap bleeding. The sap flow is normal and will help the pine tree’s wound heal faster.

Tips for Pruning Pine Trees

Never prune more than a quarter of the pine tree’s branches at one time. Pruning too many branches at once can weaken the tree and in some cases, kill it. You should do several small pruning cuts over the course of a season or year rather than one major cut.

Pruning Young Pine Trees

Pruning young trees helps the tree grow a strong healthy branch structure. Only prune newly planted pine trees when they have damaged or dying branches.

As the young tree grows, they’ll sprout low temporary branches that help provide sustenance to the tree. These same branches help protect the tree’s trunk. You can slowly remove these low temporary branches over the course of several years.

Pruning Mature Pine Trees

If you properly prune a pine tree when it’s young, it won’t need as much pruning and maintenance later on. Some mature pine trees, however, may start to overgrow or sustain damage and will therefore need pruning.

If possible, you should never prune the tops or crowns of a pine tree. Known as topping, pruning this top area will cause the pine tree to deform. Pruning this area, unless it’s already dead or damaged, will make the pine tree vulnerable to disease, decay, and pests.

Shortening branches is the process of cutting only a part of the branch. This process leads to ugly short stumpy branches and stunted growth. When pruning pine branches, always remove the entire branch.

Enjoy Lush Healthy Pine Trees

Pine trees are strong beautiful trees that add value to your lawn and require very little maintenance. Learning how and when to prune pine trees will ensure your tree stays healthy and long-lasting for years to come.

Have questions or need your pine trees pruned? Send us a message to see what we can help you with. We’re happy to help you with any of your tree service needs.

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