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Large trees aside, there are many pruning jobs that you can do on your own. In all cases, the key is to prune the unwanted branch while protecting the stem or trunk wood of the tree. Tree branches grow from stems at nodes and pruning always takes place on the branch side of a stem-branch node. Branches and stems are separated by a lip of tissue called a stem collar which grows out from the stem at the base of the branch. All pruning cuts should be made on the branch side of this stem collar. This protects the stem and the other branches that might be growing from it. It also allows the tree to heal more effectively after the prune. To prevent tearing of the bark and stem wood, particularly in the case of larger branches, use the following procedure:

1. Make a small wedge shaped cut on the underside of the branch just on the branch side of the stem collar. This will break the bark at that point and prevent a tear from running along the bark and stem tissue.

2. Somewhat farther along the branch, starting at the top of the branch, cut all the way through the branch leaving a stub end.

3. Finally, make a third cut parallel to and just on the branch side of the of the stem collar to reduce the length of the stub as much as possible.

A similar procedure is used in pruning one of two branches (or one large branch and a stem) joined together in a 'u' or 'v' crotch. This is known as a drop crotch cut. Make the first notch cut on the underside of the branch you're pruning well up from the crotch. For the second cut, cut completely through the branch from inside the crotch well up from the ridge of bark joining the two branches. Finally, to shorten the remaining stub, make the third cut just to one side of the branch bark ridge and roughly parallel to it.

Pruning is a horticultural and silvicultural practice involving the selective removal of parts of a plant, such as branches, buds, or roots. Reasons to prune plants include deadwood removal, shaping (by controlling or directing growth), improving or maintaining health, reducing risk from falling branches, preparing nursery specimens for transplanting, and both harvesting and increasing the yield or quality of flowers and fruits. The practice entails targeted removal of diseased, damaged, dead, non-productive, structurally unsound, or otherwise unwanted tissue from crop and landscape plants. Specialized pruning practices may be applied to certain plants, such as roses,fruit trees, and grapevines. It is important when pruning that the tree’s limbs are kept intact, as this is what helps the tree stay upright.[1]Different pruning techniques may be deployed on herbaceous plants than those used on perennial woody plants. Hedges, by design, are usually (but not exclusively) maintained by hedge trimming, rather than by pruning.

Arborists, orchardists, and gardeners use various garden tools and tree cutting tools designed for the purpose, such as hand pruners,loppers, or chainsaws. In nature, meteorological conditions such as wind, ice and snow, and salinity can cause plants to self-prune.---This natural shedding is called abscission.

In general, the smaller the branch that is cut, the easier it is for a woody plant to compartmentalize the wound and thus limit the potential for pathogen intrusion and decay. It is therefore preferable to make any necessary formative structural pruning cuts to young plants, rather than removing large, poorly placed branches from mature plants.

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Pruning landscape and amenity trees[edit]Types of branch union[edit]

Pruning when there's a branch collar: The swollen area where the branch joins the trunk is known as the collar

Pruning when there's a collarless union: The area where there is no swollen area where the branch joins the trunk is called a collarless union

Pruning when it's a codominant stem

For arboricultural purposes the unions of tree branches (i.e. where they join together) are placed in one of three types: collared, collarless or codominant. Regardless of the overall type of pruning being carried out, each type of union is cut in a particular way so that the branch has less chance of regrowth from the cut area and best chance of sealing over and compartmentalising decay. This is often referred to byarborists as "target cutting".[citation needed]


Branches die off for a number of reasons including light deficiency, pest and disease damage, and root structure damage. A dead branch will at some point decay back to the parent stem and fall off. This is normally a slow process but can be quickened by high winds or extreme temperature. The main reason deadwooding is performed is safety. Situations that usually demand removal of deadwood is trees that overhang public roads, houses, public areas and gardens. Trees located in wooded areas are usually assessed as lower risk but assessments consider the amount of visitors. Usually, trees adjacent to footpaths and access roads are considered for deadwood removal.[2]

Another reason for deadwooding is amenity value, i.e. a tree with a large amount of deadwood throughout the crown looks more aesthetically pleasing with the deadwood removed. The physical practice of deadwooding can be carried out most of the year though not when the tree is coming into leaf. The deadwooding process speeds up the tree's natural abscission process. It also reduces unwanted weight and wind resistance and can help overall balance.

Crown and canopy thinning[edit]

Crown and canopy thinning increases light and reduces wind resistance by selective removal of branches throughout the canopy of the tree. This is a common practice which improves the tree's strength against adverse weather conditions as the wind can pass through the tree resulting in less "load" being placed on the tree. The shape is vital for the survival of the tree and lopping off the wrong sections of a tree if it has surpassed its height limit can actually be extremely damaging. This can hinder its growth or cause an overbalance.[3]

Crown canopy lifting[edit]

Crown lifting involves the removal of the lower branches to a given height. The height is achieved by the removal of whole branches or removing the parts of branches which extend below the desired height. The branches are normally not lifted to more than one third of the tree's total height.

Crown lifting is done for access; these being pedestrian, vehicle or space for buildings and street furniture. Lifting the crown will allow traffic and pedestrians to pass underneath safely. This pruning technique is usually used in the urban environment as it is for public safety and aesthetics rather than tree form and timber value.

Crown lifting introduces light to the lower part of the trunk; this, in some species can encourage epicormic growth from dormant buds. To reduce this sometimes smaller branches are left on the lower part of the trunk. Excessive removal of the lower branches can displace the canopy weight, this will make the tree top heavy, therefore adding stress to the tree. When a branch is removed from the trunk, it creates a large wound. This wound is susceptible to disease and decay, and could lead to reduced trunk stability. Therefore much time and consideration must be taken when choosing the height the crown is to be lifted to.

This would be an inappropriate operation if the tree species’ form was of a shrubby nature. This would therefore remove most of the foliage and would also largely unbalance the tree. This procedure should not be carried out if the tree is in decline, poor health or dead, dying or dangerous (DDD) as the operation will remove some of the photosynthetic area the tree uses. This will increase the decline rate of the tree and could lead to death.

If the tree is of great importance to an area or town, (i.e. veteran or ancient) then an alternative solution to crown lifting would be to move the target or object so it is not in range. For example, diverting a footpath around a tree’s drip line so the crown lift is not needed. Another solution would be to prop up or cable-brace the low hanging branch. This is a non-invasive solution which in some situations can work out more economically and environmentally friendly.

Directional or formative pruning[edit]

Removal of appropriate branches to make the tree structurally sound while shaping it.

Vista pruning[edit]

Selectively pruning a window of view in a tree.

Crown reduction[edit]

Reducing the height and or spread of a tree by selectively cutting back to smaller branches and in fruit trees for increasing of light interception and enhancing fruit quality.


Main article: Pollarding

A regular form of pruning where certain deciduous species are pruned back to pollard heads every year in the dormant period. This practice is usually commenced on juvenile trees so they can adapt to the harshness of the practice.

Types of pruning[edit]

An arborist pruning a tree near the Statue of Liberty

Regardless of the various names used for types of pruning, there are only two basic cuts: One cuts back to an intermediate point, calledheading back cut, and the other cuts back to some point of origin, called thinning out cut.[4]

Removing a portion of a growing stem down to a set of desirable buds or side-branching stems. This is commonly performed in well trained plants for a variety of reasons, for example to stimulate growth of flowers, fruit or branches, as a preventative measure to wind and snow damage on long stems and branches, and finally to encourage growth of the stems in a desirable direction. Also commonly known asheading-back.

  • Thinning: A more drastic form of pruning, a thinning out cut is the removal of an entire shoot, limb, or branch at its point of origin.[4] This is usually employed to revitalize a plant by removing over-mature, weak, problematic, and excessive growths. When performed correctly, thinning encourages the formation of new growth that will more readily bear fruit and flowers. This is a common technique in pruningroses and for amplifying and "opening-up" the branching of neglected trees, or for renewing shrubs with multiple branches.
  • Topping: Topping is a very severe form of pruning which involves removing all branches and growths down to a few large branches or to the trunk of the tree. When performed correctly it is used on very young trees, and can be used to begin training younger trees forpollarding or for trellising to form an espalier.
  • Raising removes the lower branches from a tree in order to provide clearance for buildings, vehicles, pedestrians, and vistas.
  • Reduction reduces the size of a tree, often for clearance for utility lines. Reducing the height or spread of a tree is best accomplished by pruning back the leaders and branch terminals to lateral branches that are large enough to assume the terminal roles (at least one-third the diameter of the cut stem). Compared to topping, reduction helps maintain the form and structural integrity of the tree.[5]

In orchards, fruit trees are often lopped to encourage regrowth and to maintain a smaller tree for ease of picking fruit. The pruning regime in orchards is more planned and the productivity of each tree is an important factor.

Deadheading is the act of removing spent flowers or flowerheads for aesthetics, to prolong bloom for up to several weeks or promote rebloom, or to prevent seeding.

Time period[edit]

Pruning small branches can be done at any time of year. Large branches, with more than 5-10% of the plant's crown, can be pruned either during dormancy in winter, or, for species where winter frost can harm a recently pruned plant, in mid summer just after flowering. Autumn should be avoided, as the spores of disease and decay fungi are abundant at this time of year.

Some woody plants that tend to bleed profusely from cuts, such as maples, or which callous over slowly, such as magnolias, are better pruned in summer or at the onset of dormancy instead. Woody plants that flower early in the season, on spurs that form on wood that has matured the year before, such as apples, should be pruned right after flowering, as later pruning will sacrifice flowers the following season. Forsythia, azaleas and lilacs all fall into this category.

See also[edit]



  • Sunset Editors, (1995) Western Garden Book, Sunset Books Inc, ISBN 978-0-376-03851-7
  • James, N. D. G, The arboriculturalist’s companion, second edition 1990, Blackwell Publishers Ltd, Great Britain.
  • Shigo, A, 1991, Modern arboriculture, third printing, Durham, New Hampshire, USA, Shirwin Dodge Printers.
  • Shigo, A, 1989, A New Tree Biology. Shigo & trees Associates.
  • J.M. Dunn, C.J. Atkinson, N.A. Hipps, 2002, Effects of two different canopy manipulations on leaf water use and photosynthesis as determined by gas exchange and stable isotope discrimination, East Malling, University of Cambridge.
  • Shigo. A. L, 1998, Modern Arboriculture, third printing (2003), USA, Sherwin Dodge Printers
  • British standards 3998:1989, Recommendations for Tree Work.
  • Lonsdale. D, 1999, Principles of tree hazard assessment and management, 6th impression 2008, forestry commission, Great Britain.



Need a tree removed? Here is a detailed description of our tree removal process.

  • Request a free estimate by completing an online form or call our office at 770-921-8227. A sales representative will come to the location and give you a proposal for the cost of the work within 2-3 business days of your request. You do not have to meet with our sales representative, but can if you would like to speak with them.
  • If you decide to move forward with the proposal, sign the proposal and fax it back to our office at 770-932-5150. Once we have the signed proposal, the work will be scheduled. Your sales representative will call you a few days before the work will be scheduled. Clients living in certain cities will be required to get a permit in order to have the work complete. Visit the permit page for more information.
  • On the day of your scheduled work, it is not necessary to be present while the work is being done. A skilled crew foreman and operations field manager will ensure a safe and through job. If you would like to be home, please indicate this on the proposal so we can coordinate a time for the job. The first crew will take down the trees, chip the limbs into our truck and leave any large logs for the next crew. If you have a fence near the area where the work is being done, sections of the fence may have to be temporarily removed. This information will be included in your proposal.
  • The second crew will remove the large logs and debris from your property within a few days. A grapple truck will pull the cut limbs and trunk pieces. We will use a landscape tractor to move the pieces to the grapple truck. The area where the logs are left will return to its natural contour in a short time. The stump that remains will be approximately 3-6” above grade (ground) which is the industry standard. All the wood debris is recycled and reused for agricultural purposes.
  • For an additional fee you can choose to have the remaining stump ground. A third crew will do the stump grinding within 2-3 business days, assuming all underground utilities are located. A portable grinder or a tow-behind grinder will mulch the stump into chips. A 6-12” hole with soil and mulch will remain. In some cases stump grinding may not be possible.
  • Once the job has been completed, we will mail you a copy of your bill. You can send a check by mail or call to pay with a credit card, Visa, MasterCard or American Express.

If you have any other questions, please contact us at 770-921-8227 or email us at


Our trained professionals answer all your tree care questions. To send us your question, email us at

Question: Why should trees be pruned?

Answer: You should prune trees to maintain the health of the tree. Pruning protects against disease and fungus by allowing air movement through the tree. Pruning also helps the tree callus over wounds to close off to protect from insects. By pruning your tree limbs on a regular basis, you minimize the chance of injury or property damage caused by fallen tree limbs.

Question: Is fall the best time of year to prune my trees? **

Answer: We have been pruning trees for over 20 years and the answer to the “pruning” question is that you can prune any time of the year if you know what to prune and where to make your cuts.

The basic rule of thumb is not to over-prune – no more than 25 percent of the tree’s foliage should be removed. This will keep the tree from getting stressed out; putting the tree into shock can cause dieback or worse. Fall is a good time to prune live limbs for building clearance, elevation and thinning out. This helps air movement, which can help prevent fungus and disease.

When pruning, you should look for crossing and rubbing limbs, limbs touching other limbs and dead wood. This will help reduce problems as the trees grow. You should also look at the top of the tree to make sure there is only one central lead or enough room for multiple leads to grow and mature. Branch attachment is very important, also. Branches should have more of a “u” shape attachment, not a “v” shape. A more rounded attachment is better than a tighter attachment. A more rounded is much stronger and will be less likely to break or split, like Bradford pears do after 10-15 years of growth.

In protecting your trees, it’s best to enlist in the help of a professional arborist when it comes to the proper way to prune them. Improper pruning can cause irreparable damage to your trees.

**As featured in the November 2005 edition of Atlanta Home Improvement magazine.

Question: What is tree topping?

Answer: Tree topping is the removal, or cutting back, of large branches in mature trees.

Question: Should I have my trees topped?

Answer: Tree topping is the worst thing you can do to the health of a tree. Tree topping throws out sucker growth which is weakly attached to the tree. Since sucker growth is so fast, it creates a safety hazard as the new, weaker growth is subject to easy breakage. Tree topping also leaves open wounds that are subject to decay and disease, and can even cause early death of the tree.

Question: Why should I fertilize my trees? When?

Answer: Trees growing in an urban society are not the same as those in a forest. In the forest, trees live in a natural, balanced environment where leaves, needles, branches and even other plants break down to create organic matter that returns nutrients to the earth. In an urban setting, we rake up all the leaves and organic debris, bag it and discard it. In order for trees to thrive in our urban environment, we should fertilize them regularly. Fertilization should be done from October to the beginning of June. Root stimulant can be applied any time of the year, but the fall is the best time. By applying the stimulant in the fall, it allows the nutrients to be absorbed prior to new spring growth.

Question: What are the signs that my tree is nutrient-deficient?

Answer: The signs that you should look for, to detect if a tree is nutrient deficient are:

  • A slow rate and lower amount of annual growth on twigs
  • Increase in dead branches
  • Smaller than normal foliage
  • Dull or off-color foliage
  • Increased disease and/or insect problems
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