Whether your home is surrounded with mature trees and shrubs or you have new landscaping, you’ll want to make the most of your greenery. Properly pruned trees are graceful and elegant, shading your home in summer and creating much-needed privacy on smaller city lots.

By contrast, an out-of-control tree is not only an eyesore, its branches can post a hazard to your gutters and roof — or to your neighbors’ property.

“The key to living with trees is regular maintenance,” says Jeff Warrick, an arborist with Eastside Tree Works. “You are doing yourself and the tree a huge favor. Routine pruning costs much less than dealing with a tree in an emergency.”

Warrick helps people assess the health of their trees and shrubs and create a plan for maintaining them. It’s especially important, he says, when you have Douglas firs, big-leaf maples, or Western hemlocks on your property.

“Those are big trees that can grow to 150 feet or more,” he says. “If you have a grove of firs or hemlocks, you want to invest in an assessment and do routine pruning every three to five years.”

Why prune?

It might seem odd to do a lot of pruning if you like your tree the way it is, or are anxious for it to grow larger. But it turns out that pruning makes trees both healthier and more attractive.

“If you leave a lot of dead wood attached to a tree, it’s still drawing nutrients and taking those away from the rest of the tree,” Warrick says. “This can cause branches to die on the outer canopy, which doesn’t look nice.”

But don’t feel that you have to prune every year. Sometimes just keeping an eye on the tree is enough. “With a big-leaf maple, which we have a lot of in this area, you can wait quite a time to prune,” he says. “Often the wind comes through and causes seasonal shedding of deadwood and the tree essentially prunes itself.”

What needs the most pruning? Japanese maples. They need to be pruned consistently and opened up if you want to reveal their elegant structure. Also ornamental deciduous trees such as sakuras (cherry trees). “People plant them because they want the garden to be beautiful, but if you don’t prune them you will end up having to remove them because they’re overgrown,” Warrick says.

You may also be dealing with a situation where a previous owner planted a tree much too close to the house. Regular pruning is the only way to keep the tree from blocking access to walls and windows.

When to DIY and when to call the professionals

Warrick encourages homeowners to invest in good cutting and pruning tools (such as pole pruners) and do annual pruning of shrubs, fruit trees and deciduous trees. The idea is to remove dead wood and overlapping branches. If you want to do more aggressive pruning, do some research to see how much pruning a particular type of shrub or tree can handle.

Warrick emphasizes that people working on graceful ornamental trees like cherries and maples should not use hedge trimmers (those are for shrubs and hedges). He says he is often called out to restore Japanese maples that have been hedge-trimmed into umbrella shapes.


Warrick also cautions against making major alterations, such as removing a large branch on a big tree, unless you have the right tools and plenty of experience.

“People often get up on a ladder with a saw and make the cut without having a way to control where the branch is going to land,” he explains. “A lot of times the branch falls and hits the ladder, and knocks them off. While they are holding a saw. And that’s a real bad thing.”

When it comes to pruning and removing dead branches from giant trees like Douglas firs, cedars and hemlocks, it’s time to call the professionals. They come to the job with chippers, stump grinders and lift trucks. To gain access to the tree, arborists attach spikes to their boots and employ robes, saddles and carabiners. They use lightweight, easy-to-maneuver top-handle chain saws.

“This is serious work,” Warrick says. “If you have big trees on your property, or are considering buying a house with big trees, budget for maintenance. We can help you figure out what work will need to be done.”

Eastside Tree Works has been providing commercial and residential tree services to Seattle and the Eastside area since 2005. From 24-hour emergency service to tree pruning or removal and stump grinding, Eastside Tree Works delivers professional workmanship at competitive rates.