Tree Pruning Methods

Tree Pruning

Removing Branch (Pruning)Proper tree pruning is an art based on scientific principles of plant physiology. At its most basic level, pruning trees involves removing damaged, dead or structurally weak limbs, which will improve a tree’s health and reduce the chances of personal or property damage caused by falling limbs. More advanced pruning methods aid in improving the tree’s structure and long-term health.

There are four basic methods for tree pruning:

  • Clean: Selective pruning to remove one or more of the following parts: dead, diseased, and/or broken branches. This type of pruning is done to reduce the risk of branches falling from the tree and to reduce the movement of decay, insects and diseases from dead or dying branches into the rest of the tree. Cleaning is the preferred pruning method for mature trees because it does not remove live branches unnecessarily.
  • Thin: Selective pruning to reduce density of live branches. Thinning trees reduces the density at the edge of the crown, not the interior, which increases sunlight penetration and air movement.
  • Raise: Selective pruning to provide vertical clearance. Crown raising shortens or removes lower branches of a tree to provide clearance for buildings, signs, vehicles, pedestrians, and vistas.
  • Reduce: Selective pruning to decrease height and/or spread. This type of pruning is done to minimize risk of failure, to reduce height or spread, for utility line clearance, to clear vegetation from buildings or other structures, or to improve the appearance of the plant. Not all tree and shrub species can tolerate reduction pruning, so the species and plant health should be considered.

There are also certain pruning practices that are not acceptable and can injure trees:

Overpruned Palm Tree (Pruning)• Topping: The reduction of a tree’s size using cuts that shorten limbs or branches back to a predetermined crown limit, often leaving large stubs.
 Lion’s Tailing: The removal of an excessive number of inner branches from the tree.
 Rooster-Tailing: The over-thinning of palms by removing too many lower fronds. See image at left.

An understanding of the end goals lie at the heart of good pruning. Before beginning work, it is imperative that your plans include the objectives of pruning, the pruning types to be used, the size range of branches to remove, the percentage of live crown to be removed, and the location of branches.

Consider consulting a professional arborist or tree care company familiar with proper pruning and the need for written specifications, especially if the tree is large or potentially unmanageable. Arborists and tree care companies should prune according to the American National Standards Institute standard.

Photo Credit: ANSI A300 Standards, Part I (Pruning)

Pruning Tips from the Pros


7 Comments on Tree Pruning Methods

  1. Any reasoning behind the two cuts before separating the branch from the tree?

  2. Thanks great read. I hate seeing a young healthy tree ruined or at stunted from a bad pruning job.

  3. Love the label “rooster-tailing”. As a tree surgeon in the UK, I’ve never come across palm trees in our area. However there are some along the South Coast of the UK so I’ll be prepared if anyone need us to prune palms!

  4. I liked this article as a good intro with the basics. Understanding the end goal is a concept hardly anyone thinks through. Thank You!

  5. Most people should get their tree’s pruned, but most do not. Even though there can be many benefits not just asthetics. Most people wait until there is some branches fall instead of being proactive.

  6. Cool tutorial, thanks for sharing it! Pruning trees has always been an important task in our garden. We have many fruit trees, and dead branches or diseases are something we see quite often. It was very nice to see everything written down systematically, it gave me new ideas on how to improve the health of my trees.

  7. I’ve seen palm trees trimmed like that photo when I was in Los Angeles. Why is that not an acceptable method? I thought the trees continually grew out more of those fronds. Would it kill the tree to have that much exposed?

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