The Homeowner’s Guide to Trimming Trees

Trimming trees is not for the faint of heart. Homeowners across the Denver metro area are armed with ladders, chainsaws, pruning shears, and ropes for “that one branch” weighing on their minds on Sunday afternoon. How hard can it be to take off that one branch, right?

We get it, you want to feel the shake of a chainsaw in your shoulders! You want to see the chips fly. That iconic “BRARR!” of a Husqvarna 20-incher is enough to make the six-year-old inside you grin with delight.

Until you drop your elm tree through your brand-new Expedition in your driveway.

Tree trimming is more than a chainsaw and a free afternoon for the weekend warrior. It’s an art and science, and your trees (and car) deserve the expert touch an arborist can provide through tree trimming service. Still, there may be situations where you need to face tree trimming on your property yourself. For these situations, our certified arborists have compiled this guide full of expert advice for trimming your own trees.

How to Determine if Your Trees Need Trimming

Usually, the first step is figuring out if your trees need trimming. This is rather obvious if you have “that one branch” sticking out, but otherwise, that maze of branches can be intimidating when trying to proactively prune your trees. Unquestionably, trees grow in all shapes and sizes, so how do you know your tree is growing the right way?

This is accomplished by understanding the shapes, directions, and importance of each branch as it relates to your tree’s overall growth. There are several factors to consider when inspecting your tree before trimming.

Tree Trimming Considerations

Abnormal Growth

Are there signs of abnormal growth (growing far more on one side of the tree compared to the other side)? You may want to start trimming trees to match the growth rate of the shorter side. Abnormal growth on trees could be a sign of damage or trauma to a tree from weather or an infestation. Certified arborists can help you identify the main cause behind the abnormal growth in any of your trees.

Hazardous Situations

Branches that grow from a weakened area may be susceptible to breakage, which is a significant safety concern to consider. If your tree is growing near any type of hazardous situation, such as near power lines, do not attempt to trim your tree yourself. Contact trained professionals that are experienced in working with your local utility providers to remove overgrowth safely and effectively.

Read more on whether your project requires a certified arborist here.

Warning Signs

Crossing branches and deepening cracks in the bark can also be signs your tree needs trimming. Branches that touch can easily start rubbing off the bark at the contact points. This leaves the tree vulnerable to wood rot, disease, and possibly, the death of the tree if left untrimmed.


Pruning and trimming trees can occur at any time of year, but certain seasons may be better than others depending on the type and condition of your trees. This principle is especially true when it comes to fruit trees. It’s essential to trim fruit trees only during the winter dormant season, particularly those in the Rosaceae family, because they are susceptible to contracting fire blight.

Safety Protocols for DIY Tree Trimming

If you decide to trim your trees yourself, here are three protocols you need to follow with fidelity for your safety and success:

1) Methods To Properly Fell A Tree

  • Check your surroundings for hazards such as powerlines.
  • Imagine possible fall scenarios.
  • Decide which way to fell the tree, make a directional notch cut in the tree.
  • Clear away all undergrowth so you can get out of the way quickly.
  • Cut away limbs from lower part of the trunk.
  • Cut from the top and use a downward stroke.
  • Work at an angle that puts the tree trunk between yourself and the chainsaw.
  • Never cut tree limbs at a level higher than your shoulders.
  • Use a felling wedge as a lever to make the tree begin to fall.
  • Watch and retreat keeping your eyes on the falling tree as you move away.

2) Proper Pruning Techniques

  • Remove all dead, dying, and diseased limbs.
  • Raise the canopy to increase pedestrian, vehicular or visual zone.
  • Remove old wood to encourage the formation of new wood.
  • Always make cuts close to a node.
  • Prune to the lateral bud that will produce the branch you want.

Recommended Safety Equipment for Tree Trimming

Whether you’re using a chainsaw or trimming shears, we highly recommend proper, personal protective equipment (PPE) in the form of sturdy clothes, chainsaw protective chaps, proper eyewear, and a hard hat with ear protection. Avoiding mishaps when handling tree cutting tools could save you money, time, and potentially pain at the ER. You don’t need us to explain the purpose of each piece of recommended safety wear, but a brief refresher on safety gear is always a good idea!

Accordingly, safety glasses will help prevent flying debris, such as broken branches and leaves, from causing damage to your eyes. Sturdy work gloves will help protect your hands and arms from scrapes and scratches. Chainsaw chaps are made from cut-resistant material and will protect your legs from accidental injury.

While trimming trees, you may notice a section of a tree above your reach, you will want to carefully consider what type of ladder to use. A lean-to ladder doesn’t afford nearly the same level of stability as a standard A-frame ladder. As always, it’s wise to consider the different situations you may encounter while trimming your tree, especially if you’re standing on a ladder. One example would be that your ladder tips over, what’s the direction you want to jump to avoid injury as much as possible?

Our certified arborists highly recommend wearing a safety harness if you’re trimming an area more than eight feet off the ground. Be careful to choose a solid anchoring point that leaves you free of unnecessary risk with your cable or cord should you fall.

Risks of DIY Tree Trimming

Worst case scenario, DIY tree trimming can cause a serious injury or fatality. Best case? You get the job done with no major catastrophes. But do you get it done right? Often, DIY tree trimming ends in an epic fail:

Damaged Property

You manage to climb the ladder, trim, and remove the tree branches, all without hurting yourself or anyone else. But a big branch falls on your (fill in the blank – roof? garage? shed?). Now you have just added another major improvement project to your list.

Tree Hack Job

Maybe you have what you need to trim your own tree; after all, you could own a chainsaw and a ladder. You watch a YouTube tutorial, think you have a good grasp, and are considering: should you trim it? Think of it this way, would you cut your own hair? You have scissors and a comb and access to instructions. Even with these tools at your disposal, the answer is often no, you wouldn’t. And odds are if you trim your own tree, it won’t just look a little uneven. It’s hard to get a full picture of the result while you’re in there trimming unless you have some training. Plus, you know – there’s the sharp objects. Lack of training and sharp objects are never a good combination.

Time & Money Wasted

Many homeowners choose to DIY to save money. If you’re planning on starting from scratch and buying the tools you’ll need, researching the proper techniques, and putting in the man-hours yourself, you are definitely not going to save money. Professional tree trimming crews typically use 14″  Stihl chainsaws with safety guards. This tool alone costs about $800! Add to that a proper ladder, personal safety equipment, and we’re talking about well over $1,000. Save yourself time and money by getting a quick quote or estimate from a professional!

Preserve Your Trees’ Health

A good deal of tree science and technique goes into properly trimming trees. All cuts made during trimming and pruning will affect the overall long-term health of the tree. Here are just a few fast facts about the connection between poor tree trimming and tree health:

  • Trees that haven’t been properly pruned are often weakened and therefore hazardous.
  • Trees require consistent, expert pruning for proper health.
  • Topping, a common practice of trimming off a significant portion of a tree’s crown, is thought to increase blooming but can stunt growth and harm the trees health.
  • A tree that has been topped, or incorrectly pruned, is more likely to develop disease and rot.

If you decide you’d rather hire professionals to handle your tree trimming and you live in Colorado, schedule a free consultation today. We are experts in getting you the most for your budget and can help you keep your trees healthier for longer.