Deadwood isn't just unattractive, it's also dangerous to both you and the tree. Large dead branches are often called widow-makers, because of the increased chances of breaking and falling. A broken dead branch can also create an entry point for tree diseases and insects, posing a hazard to an otherwise healthy tree.
Some deadwood is to be expected. Make sure you remove it safely and correctly so everyone remains safe.
You can remove deadwood at any time of year without harming the tree. If you aren't sure whether a branch is dead or just dormant, wait until new growth resumes in spring. Branches that are posing a hazard, such as deadwood overhanging houses, sidewalks or patios, should be removed immediately to minimize the chances of breakage and injury.
Three tools are usually all you need for removing a dead branch from a tree.
Bypass pruning shears. Use these to cut off dead branches less than ½ inch in diameter.
Pruning saw. Use a saw for branches over ½ inch thick.
Pole pruners. Use a pole pruning saw or shears to reach branches higher in the canopy, which you can't otherwise reach from the ground.
Disinfect your tools by wiping them with a solution of one part bleach and nine parts water after each cut. Disease and insects is sometimes carried within deadwood, and you don't want to spread these problems when you begin cutting into healthy wood.
Unless the branches are low to the ground, safety is a major concern. Wear safety glasses and heavy gloves when you prune. If you are removing branches from overhead, make sure you have on a hard hat to protect your head from any falling wood. Fallen branches are a major concern, so don't work on the tree around children and pets.
It's better to remove higher branches using a pole pruner. If a ladder is needed to reach the deadwood, take the safe route and bring in a professional tree pruning services. Never climb a tree trunk to prune. This is a dangerous practice and it's not worth the risk.
Before making each cut, determine the most likely trajectory for the falling the branch. Make sure it is clear to fall without hitting a person or building. Avoid cutting the tree yourself if it has power lines running through it or nearby.
If you inspect the point of attachment to the main trunk, you will notice a raised color of wood connecting the dead branch to the trunk. When removing the deadwood, cut as close as you can to this collar without actually cutting into it. The collar protects the tree from infection once he branch is removed.
You may also need to trim back broken branches. Cutting back the stubs to the collar helps prevent infection, keeping your tree healthy. Cut or saw completely through the branch or stub. Breaking it off can cause damage to the collar or trunk.
Spring is often when deadwood is most noticeable, so take the time to inspect your tree canopies when they first begin to bud out each year. It's often easier to access and remove the dead branches before the full leaves unfurl and camouflage them.