Tree Pruning Methods
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:
• 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)
30 thoughts on “Tree Pruning Methods”
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?
It’s not about exposure. Palm trees need dying leaves for the nutrients. If you strip it down to the 45 degree line, it will hinder new growth.
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.
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.
I liked this article as a good intro with the basics. Understanding the end goal is a concept hardly anyone thinks through. Thank You!
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!
Thanks great read. I hate seeing a young healthy tree ruined or at stunted from a bad pruning job.
Any reasoning behind the two cuts before separating the branch from the tree?
Use this for big/heavy limbs to avoid peeling the bark.
Making a 3-part pruning cut like that is especially important when pruning larger branches- if you make one single cut, you can tear bark from the trunk of the tree as the branch is removed, leaving an open wound on the tree. For smaller branches, it’s not as much of a concern if you’re making small pruning cuts with a hand snip, but it’s never a bad idea to use the 3-part method.
Also after 1st and 2nd cut I remove the heavy limb to assure no bark trearing and then make 3rd cut of the freed extension stump.
To ensure the limb doesn’t peel down the tree.
Great advice on the 10 and 2 angle, and pruning to the bud! Thanks for the informative post.
Had no idea that that was the incorrect way of cutting a palm. Granted, we’ve never been out working on the coasts…we’re mainly pines in our area. #themoreyouknow
Good tips on pruning on the correct way and the wrong way to do it…you can leave a customer’s tree looking aesthetically pleasing or like something from a horror movie!
Not many palms here in Solihull, but interesting to read nonetheless.
Excellent tips from the pros; pruning is a bulk of what we tend to do for our clients.
Excellent tips on how to prune a tree the correct way.
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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.
Very helpful! I’ll be out pruning today!
Palms frons seem to die so easily.. Any tips on prolonging the life of them? Or maybe it’s just the normal yearly deal…
This is good information. Trees are often not trimmed correctly leaving the tree bark peeled down the side of the tree.
I found this article very useful. Thankyou so much for this wonderful info.
A very good article. Any other tips to increase root’s life?
Thanks for the information. I had heard of “lion’s tailing” and was curious what that was. Thanks again!
Great pruning tips here! I couldn’t have said it better myself. I look forward to reading more tree service tips when i have time. Thank you.
Pruning is an essential part of a healthy garden and should not be taken lightly. A professional garden pruning service is needed to make sure your flowers and plants get the right amount of care they need.
This article is a great way to show why and how tree care is not as easy at it may seem at first, not to mention that these are not the only methods to prune a tree. There are much more and it is paramount you check with a professional tree service provider if you want it done right! Thanks for the article
Pruning is often overlooked for most homeowners but essential for a tree’s long term health and plumage. Winter is also a great time to prune as it’s a lot easier to see the branch work without the leaves.