Pruning Fir Trees in Landscapes

fir tree and cow
Photo by Ross Sokolovski

When pruning fir trees, keeping the old adage “Less is more” in mind will help you determine how much to prune to avoid cutting too much. Fir trees, such as evergreens, do well with little to no maintenance, and actually seem to thrive on neglect. They have evolved in regions that receive little rainfall, have poor soil conditions or experience extreme temperatures and are considered a hardy, rugged plant. A little light pruning is all that is needed to keep these trees healthy and beautiful.

Fir trees are unforgiving when it comes to pruning. They do not re-grow their limbs and branches like other trees, so determining the reason for pruning and where to prune them ahead of time and only cutting once is key. Also important is timing. Fir trees should be pruned in late winter to early spring to avoid disturbing new growth.

Why prune a fir tree?

There really are only three reasons why you should even think about pruning a fir tree.

Form

Many people plant fir trees for their shape. The pyramidal form is visually pleasing, takes up less space, and adds a nice constant green to a garden landscape. In addition, because fir trees have a dominant, single leader branch, the tree usually retains its shape with no pruning. Occasionally, the tree will form two dominant leader branches and will need pruning to eliminate an odd-shaped, weak tree.

Size Control

Ideally, if you have planted a fir tree, you have allowed enough room for growth and controlling its size will not be an issue. Unfortunately, many gardeners have found themselves in a position where the tree has grown faster than anticipated and needs pruning to keep it in check. This type of pruning should be done sparingly, and only if absolutely necessary.

Health

Just like any other tree, there will be dead, diseased or damaged branches that need to be trimmed away. Pruning of this nature should be done anytime there is a need to maintain the overall health of the tree. Branches and limbs that cross each other and rub together should be removed as well because injuries that result from rubbing can be entry points for disease. Limbs that appear weak because of poor attachment need to be removed, too.

Tips for Pruning Fir Trees

  • Prune limbs larger than a pencil with a handsaw and smaller limbs with pruning shears. Make sure your tools are super sharp to avoid damaging the trees.
  • Avoid pruning fir trees in hot weather.
  • Each fir tree has a dead zone. The dead zone is located along the interior of each branch where new shoots will not grow. How much you prune is dictated by the extent of the dead zone.
  • Dead, diseased or damaged branches should be cut back to the closest healthy bud.
  • Remove lower branches to reveal the trunk of the tree or get rid of heavy branches by cutting through the bottom of the branch first, then through the top to meet the first cut. This will make it easier to manage large branches.
  • Always wear long sleeves, pants, and closed toes shoes when pruning trees. Safety glasses are a must, as well.

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