Answer: If the branches are truly dead they can be pruned off. However, if there were late frosts or other unusual weather in your area this spring (as in many areas), the branches may not be dead at all. Instead, the buds may have been damaged by the cold and the tree is in the process of releafing out which may take a while. (The upper branches may have provided some protection to the lower branches, hence the top vs. bottom pattern.) I would be cautious about pruning too soon. Your county extension may be able to help you in judging the true extent of the damage and whether or not any pruning needs to be done. Good luck with your trees!
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