Pruning Tips

DPW crew trimming tree

To request pruning, please contact the Forestry Division at 617.349.4885, or email us.

Pruning not only helps create better looking, safer, healthier trees; it also reduces obstructions of street signs and lighting, and reduces the threat posed by dead limbs.  The pruning program also allows for a regular, systemized update of the city's tree database and a streamlining of removal and replacement.

Proper pruning is essential in developing a tree with a strong structure and desirable form. Trees that receive appropriate pruning while they are young will require little corrective pruning when they mature. There are a few simple principles to remember:

Trees do not “heal” in the way people do. When a tree is wounded, it compartmentalizes the wound by growing over it. In effect, the wound is contained within the tree forever. As a rule, small cuts do less damage to the tree than large cuts. That is why “training” a tree is critical. Waiting to prune a tree when it is mature can create the need for large cuts that the tree cannot easily close.

Proper technique is essential. Where you make a pruning cut determines a tree’s response to the wound. Pruning cuts should be made just outside the branch collar—the swollen area at the base of the branch. If a permanent branch is to be shortened, cut it back to a lateral branch or bud. Improper technique may lead to stem decay or suckering.

A good structure of primary, scaffold branches should be established while the tree is young. The goal is to establish a single, dominant leader with sturdy, well-spaced branches. Naturally, this will vary with the growth habit of the tree. The height of the lowest permanent branch should be determined by its primary function in the landscape. A street tree will differ from a landscape tree.

Some trees tend to develop branches with upright, narrow angles of attachment that weaken over time. These should be pruned while young. Wound dressing, once a popular practice, is no longer recommended. Avoid over-thinning the crown of the tree. A good rule of thumb is to maintain at least half of the foliage on branches arising in the lower two-thirds of the tree.   Do not prune the tip of the dominant leader.

Always keep in mind that each cut has the potential to change the growth of the tree. Always have a purpose in mind. When in doubt, consult a certified arborist.

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Dept of Public Works

147 Hampshire St
Cambridge MA 02139


Hours of Service

Monday: 8:30am-8pm
Tuesday-Thursday: 8:30am-5pm
Friday: 8:30am-12pm