How to cut a conifer tree

Updated February 21, 2017

Conifer trees can be huge, tall trees or small shrubs. Rather than typical flat leaves, conifers have long, pointy needles or scale-like leaves. Needles vary between the three main groups of conifers -- spruces, firs and pines. Most specimens keep their leaves all year, which means they can quickly begin making food again in the spring. Conifers naturally grow in a pyramid shape and work well when planted among other bushes and trees in a landscape. Most prefer full sun, but some varieties can grow in partial shade. They should be allowed to grow in their natural forms. If correction is needed, conifers can be cut.

Prune the tree to create a single-trunk specimen, using pruning shears or a pruning saw. There should be one vertical stem up the middle of the tree.

Cut out dead or weak branches. Trim the dead wood to the point where it meets healthy branches. Remove problem wood during any time of year.

Remove diseased branches to eliminate all traces of the bad wood. Make cuts in healthy branches well below the infected parts.

Thin the tree when it is dormant if some of the branches are crowded. Unlike deciduous trees, conifers develop whorls of branches that are typically spaced adequately. However, if needed, cut branches that are crowding or rubbing against each other.

Cut a conifer tree only where needles grow. Do not cut the inactive centres, which is where there are no leaves or needles, because new growth won't occur to cover the stubs left behind.

Make all cuts outside the branch collar, which is the swollen spot where one branch meets another. Hold the pruning tool at a 45 to 60-degree angle. Do not cut the branch collar because it protects the tree from decay.


Try not to prune evergreens in late summer or early autumn because new growth may be damaged when winter sets in.

Do not use a coating paint on the pruning cuts unless you are dealing with an insect infestation.

Things You'll Need

  • Pruning shears
  • Pruning saw
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About the Author

Based in New York State, Kelly Shetsky started writing in 1999. She is a broadcast journalist-turned Director of Marketing and Public Relations and has experience researching, writing, producing and reporting. She writes for several websites, specializing in gardening, medical, health and fitness, entertainment and travel. Shetsky has a Bachelor of Arts in communications from Marist College.