5 Simple Tips For Trimming A Cedar Tree

Row of cedar trees to the shrine

As you are probably aware, trees need maintenance. Cedar trees are no exception to this rule and, though they are a relatively low-maintenance plant, you should keep up with their care. If you are looking for some important tips about how and why you should trim your cedar tree, you have ended up in the right spot!

In general, when trimming a cedar tree you’ll want to keep 5 important things in mind:

  1. Locate which area of your tree needs trimming
  2. Sanitize your shears before you trim
  3. Keep your tools sharp
  4. Avoid trimming too much off the top
  5. Use the proper pruning shears

Before we dive into the methods to keep in mind when trimming a cedar tree, let’s discuss what might be going through your mind right about now. Why do we bother trimming our cedar trees in the first place?

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Why Do You Need To Trim Cedar Trees?

Before reading on and learning about the process involved in trimming (or pruning) a cedar tree, we should talk about why these things are necessary to begin with. 

First up, trimming and pruning are going to be used pretty interchangeably here today. It’s worth mentioning that there is a difference between these two practices. 

What are the differences? Keep on reading to find out!

To avoid confusion, though, trimming and pruning are the same process, just with a different motive.

You may not have to trim some cedar trees as often as you think! Some varieties are among the slowest growing trees, which you can see here Slowest Growing Trees (And Why They Grow So Slow).

1. Makes The Cedar Tree Look Good

Trimming has more to do with the appearance of a tree and promoting healthy growth. 

You can think of this as a preemptive tactic to ensure your cedar tree looks good and grows well. 

Trimming may have to do with a branch here or there, or it may be an effort to allow your tree to put its energy into growing taller rather than wider, for example.

2. Limits Cedar Tree Overgrowth

Pruning a tree is done in the same way, but this is more of a curative technique. 

Cedar trees are pruned in response to disease, overgrowth, and other things already affecting the tree.

Now, we can talk about why one might need to trim or prune a tree. Most of these reasons can be preventative or curative, so it is up to your situation to decide if you are ‘pruning’ or ‘trimming’ a tree.

3. Promotes Healthy Cedar Tree Growth 

Since taking action ahead of time is ideal, you can prune your cedar tree even if there is no current sign of disease. 

In doing so, you will help to keep the branches healthy and your tree will flourish as it grows into a resilient organism. 

Unkempt cedar trees are more susceptible to disease and other issues. Since they are not as prepared to fight disease, they will struggle more than a well-trimmed tree will.

If there already have been some signs of disease, pruning your tree can help you nip that problem in the bud by removing any infected branches or sections of your cedar tree.

4. Avoids Overcrowding Of Branches

Cedar trees are often more susceptible to issues when they are not trimmed because overcrowding of branches allows for disease, parasites, and more to spread rapidly throughout the entire canopy.

By trimming your cedar tree regularly, you can avoid this overcrowding. This creates a healthy amount of space between branches for your tree to grow and get the sunlight and air it needs most. 

This has benefits beyond the overall health of your tree, though. By keeping the crowding to a minimum, your tree will also look more maintained.

5. Keeps Your Cedar Tree Looking Maintained 

An aesthetic appeal may be your primary goal for growing a cedar tree. It also may be something you have never considered. 

No matter which side you lean toward, a happy and healthy cedar tree looks better. 

You can trim your tree and get so many benefits from just this one action. 

Now, your branches will not be overcrowded, but your cedar tree itself is likely to look more maintained, if not carefully sculpted, for the intention of appearance. 

What else is trimming your tree good for, beyond disease avoidance and visual appeal? 

Well, general growth, of course!

6. Encourages General Growth And Cedar Tree Structure As It Ages

While it is important to think about things such as best and worse case scenarios, things your cedar tree gets attention over or even worse case scenario for your cedar tree, the middle ground is key. 

Trimming a cedar tree can significantly help it maintain its ability to grow over a period because you keep it healthy and cared for. 

The structure of the cedar tree also benefits when branches are kept relatively even, and your cedar has the chance to focus its energy on growth and self-maintenance rather than fighting disease or being weighed to one side. So, if you want your cedar tree to reach it’s natural lifespan of 100-150 years, pruning is crucial.

Even if you are at the point where you have to prune a tree to solve some issues, your tree will reap this benefit, regardless. So worth it!

5 Simple Tips To Know When Trimming Your Cedar Tree

Professional gardener pruning a cedar tree with ladder

Alright, get excited! It’s the moment you’ve been waiting for: the 5 best tips for trimming cedar trees.

We know it has been a journey to get to this point, but the background knowledge above could play a big role in how successful your trimming and/or pruning efforts are.

Here are a few steps you can take to ensure you are trimming your cedar tree effectively. 

Of course, like anything, there will always be a bit of variability depending on your situation and your tree (or trees, we don’t know!)

They are pretty standard places to start, though, so we feel confident that you will leave this piece feeling ready to care for your cedar like never before. 

Without further ado, the 5 things to keep in mind:

1. Locate Which Area Needs Trimming

Cedar trees have live zones and dead zones. It is important to know that pruning around dead zones can cause more problems and your tree will risk permanent deformation. 

You should search the live zone of the tree to see what dead parts you need to prune away.

The University of Idaho Extension explains the dead zone is that part of the tree branches closest to the trunk where leaves may not grow or branches may differ from their external-facing relatives. 

You should locate the live zone, where leaves are actively and clearly growing, and see what dead branches or sections may need to be removed within that part of the cedar tree’s foliage.  

2. Sanitize Shears

The University of Missouri’s IMP helps us out here by telling us about the following ways to sanitize shears between uses. 

Not only does this preserve your shears for longer, keeping them from rusting at a young age, but it also helps to keep any disease from accidentally being spread between different trees.

Two of the main types of alcohol you can use for sanitation are ethanol or isopropyl. You can simply wipe the blades without needing much of a second thought.

Both types of alcohol can be found at the grocery store pharmacy. So, keep an eye out for labels and prices before you decide on one. 

If you own rubbing alcohol, this typically will contain a high isopropyl alcohol content which you can use to disinfect and shine your blades after just a few moments. So, save a little cash and use what you have on hand.

You can also combine 9 parts of water with one part bleach, though this takes longer to make and requires the blades to soak. Realistically, you will want to stick with the alcohol option.

Regardless of which method you are comfortable with or have access to, sanitizing your tools is an essential part of the pruning/trimming process. 

Taking care of your tree is minimized when you use tools that might spread disease and actively harm new plants. 

3. Keep Tools Sharp

This may not be something that you think of right off the bat. That’s okay, most people probably don’t. 

However, keeping your tools sharp is a huge part of successfully trimming your cedar tree. Dull blades can also give way to significant damage. 

Think of it like this- instead of resulting in a clean cut, using dull blades will cause rough, uneven ones. Your bark (and what’s left of the branch) might tear more because of this, and larger wounds will appear.

Hopefully, by now you can see the direct correlation between the size of a wound, the time it takes to heal, and how a tree is extra susceptible to problems during that healing stage.

4. Avoid Trimming Too Much Off The Top Of Your Cedar Tree

Taking too much off the top of your tree, also known as topping a tree, most often occurs when a tree has bypassed the area it was expected to fill. 

To avoid this and consider where you planted your tree to begin with. 

However, we know this is not likely something in your control unless you have lived on or owned land for decades. 

So, when topping/trimming a cedar tree, you should be careful to never take more than ¼ of the tree’s entire height. Trimming as little as possible from the top is ideal. 

The top of the cedar tree grows back at a painstakingly slow pace, so you will want to be prepared for this new appearance for a good amount of time.

5. Use The Proper Pruning Tools

If you use a good pair of bypass hand pruners like these Gonicc 8” Professional Premium Titanium Bypass Pruning Shears, your tree will be in good hands. These small hand trimmers can cut through 3/4 inch branches, depending on species.

If you need a little further reach, this Fiskars PowerGear2 Bypass Lopper will surely do the trick. They are 32 inches long, and can cut through branches 2 inches thick with ease.

Both products are meant for trimming and pruning trees, so you will have the right tools for your needs.

Just do not forget what we said above about keeping those tools clean… and sharp!

Keeping Cedar Trees Healthy Long-Term

Five cedars of lebanon (cedrus libani) in the hill on blue sky in summer

While the preventative trimming and curative pruning practices are important to helping your cedar live a long life full of growth, they are not the only factors to be considered. 

Here are a few other things to keep in mind when caring for a cedar tree:

Keep Your Cedar Tree Hydrate

Like every other plant, cedar trees need water. They must receive enough water to help them make use of things like nutrients, sunlight, and other things that help them grow.

Even if all other factors are just right, a lack of water creates a big issue when it comes to the ability of a cedar tree to maintain a stable growth rate.  

Especially if you live in a region with less rainfall. This is something you should always keep in the back of your mind.

Sprinklers used at intervals throughout the day can help to keep this shallow-rooted plant hydrated without being over-watered. 

You might try this Orbit Battery Operated Sprinkler Timer with a Valve to regulate your tree’s hydration levels. It can run 4 stations with up to 8 start times. It can also run from 1-240 minutes at a time.

As long as the soil remains moist, but does not have pools of water, you should be in good shape!

Keep Your Cedar Tree Fertilized

A 30-10-10 fertilizer is great for cedar trees. 

Yeah, great, but…what is that??

Those 3 numbers you see above are called an NPK value. This is a formula that deals with the nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium levels of fertilizer.

As you can now see, this formula has a balanced amount of potassium and phosphorus while containing less nitrogen, because cedars do not need as much of it. 

The NPK ratio allows for plants to get the nutrients they need, as opposed to potentially wasting nutrients. If a tree does not need certain nutrients, it will not absorb them.

If you are looking to get a good 30-30-10 fertilizer, we recommend you start with this Southern Ag Max Acid Water Soluble Fertilizer. Not only does it offer just the right NPK ratio, but it is also water-soluble, which is an important factor when talking about fertilizing cedar trees.

Why Is Trimming Cedar Trees Important?

Tree climbing, ropes on tree for climbing cedar pruning

Alright, finally, before we can discuss the important factors to keep in mind while trimming or pruning cedar trees, we need to mention why proper pruning matters so much. 

Improperly pruned cedar trees can pose a threat to the community for a few reasons. We want you to have this information so you do not waste time, money, or effort to get the best results.

Avoiding Undue Stress On Your Cedar Tree

If you improperly prune your cedar tree, you open it up to many stressors, which are unhealthy at best and detrimental at worst. 

Instead of helping (or saving) a tree, improper pruning practices can cause more damage than existed at the start. 

If you cut the cedar tree too close to or too far from the trunk, your tree will be the subject of irreversible damage. 

What does it mean, though?

The California Rare Fruit Growers help define these types of cuts, between a stub cut and a flush cut.

A stub cut is a cut made too far outside of the branch collar (too far from the trunk of the tree.) 

The remaining stub will have enough material left to become diseased as the stub itself decays. This presents a problem when the disease spreads to the rest of the healthy cedar tree.

A flush cut is the exact opposite, where the cut is far too close to the trunk. This cut has been made inside of the branch collar, which causes unnecessary damage to the stem tissues of the cedar tree.

So, if you cut too close to the trunk, it will leave the open wound on the cedar tree where the branch once sat open for longer. The time this kind of cut can take to heal leads to damage such as cracks, decay, and other fissures in the tree trunk.

Essentially, if you cut a cedar branch too much or too little, decay is imminent.

This is a great example of why it is so important to do your research or, if you are most comfortable, enlist the help of an expert.

Limits Potential Weakening Of A Branch That Could Fall Later

On the same note about how issues in pruning can lead to decay, decay can lead to other parts of your tree severely weakening. 

Not only is this not healthy, but it is also dangerous. Eventually, with little warning, a cedar branch could very well fall from the tree and cause a boatload of problems.

We’ll leave you with those notes for now, but trust us when we tell you that taking the time to prune correctly is so worth the effort. Not only for you and your tree but for those around you.

That’s A Wrap!

Alright, well, that’s what we’ve got for you today. 

We hope this helps you as you work to care for your cedar tree in the best way. 

Thank you for taking the time to read this piece!

Best of luck as you continue along your tree journey, and remember- we are always here to help guide you along the way. 

Until next time, cheers.


Badrulhisham, N., & Othman, N. (2016). Knowledge in tree pruning for sustainable practices in urban setting: improving our quality of life. Procedia-Social and Behavioral Sciences, 234, 210-217.

Drenou, C. (2000). Pruning trees: the problem of forks. Journal of Arboriculture, 26(5), 264-269.

Kojima, Y., Kato, Y., Takeda, H., & Yoon, S. L. (2013). Changes of extractives in pruning shoot of Japanese cedar (Cryptomeria japonica) during storing and pelletizing. Transactions of the Materials Research Society of Japan, 38(3), 467-471.

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