Pruning: Wikis


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For other uses of the term "Pruning", see Pruning (disambiguation).
Pruning: dense growth after shearing

Pruning is the process of removing certain above-ground elements from a plant; in landscaping this process usually involves removal of diseased, non-productive, or otherwise unwanted portions from a plant. In nature, certain meteorological conditions such as wind, snow or seawater mist can conduct a natural pruning process. The purpose of anthropomorphic pruning is to shape the plant by controlling or directing plant growth, to maintain the health of the plant, or to increase the yield or quality of flowers and fruits.

In general the smaller the wound (smaller the branch that is cut) the less harm to the tree. It is therefore typically better to formative prune the tree when juvenile than try to cut off large branches on a mature tree.

There are also differences pertaining to pruning, involving roses, shrubs, hedges, fruit trees or amenity trees.

If a shrub is incorrectly pruned and a piece breaks off, it may not do much damage. However, if a tree next to the house is incorrectly pruned and a large branch falls from 50 feet (about 15 metres), it can be deadly.


Pruning Landscape and Amenity Trees

Pruning when there's a branch collar:- Note the swollen area where the branch joins the trunk, this is known as the collar, do not cut off the collar
Pruning when there's a collarless union:- Note there's no swollen area where the branch joins the trunk, this is known as a collarless union, cut at a mirror angle to the BBR (branch bark ridge)
Pruning when it's a codominant stem:- Note the bottom of the BBR and where it meets the outside of the stem, cut where the red line is.

Branch structure and how they are attached to each other in trees falls into 3 categories. Collared unions, collarless unions and codominant unions. Each specific attachment has its own unique way of being cut so that the branch has less chance of regrowth from the cut area and best chance of sealing over and compartmentalising decay. This means that there are 3 types of cuts made, whether that be to remove a little branch coming of another or cutting a whole branch off back to the trunk. This term is often referred to by arborists as "target cutting".

Some of the terms used predominantly by arborists and what they entail:


Dead Wooding

Branches die off for a number of reasons ranging from light deficiency, pests and disease damage to root damage. A dead branch will at some point decay back to the parent stem causing abscission and fall off. This is normally a slow process but can be shortened by high winds and extremities of temperature. Therefore the main reason deadwooding is carried out is safety. The situations that usually demand such removal would normally be trees that overhang public roads, houses, public areas and gardens. Trees that are located in wooded areas are usually considered and assessed as lower risk but such assessments would need to consider the amount of visitors. Usually, trees adjacent to the footpaths and access roads are considered for deadwood removal. Another reason for deadwooding is amenity value, i.e. a tree with a large amount of dead throughout the crown looks more aesthetically pleasing with the deadwood removed. The physical practice of deadwooding can be carried out most of the year although preferably not when the tree is coming into leaf. The deadwooding process will speed up the natural abscission process the tree follows. It will help remove unwanted weight; wind resistance the tree carries and can help the overall balance.

Crown - Canopy Thinning

Increase light and reduce 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. Generally performed on trees that do not have a dense impenetrable canopy as opening a 100% dense canopy up with holes for wind to enter can result in broken branches and uprooting.

Crown Canopy Lifting

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

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

Vista Pruning

Selectively pruning a window of view in a tree.

Crown Reduction

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.


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

Authorities, including author Neil Sperry, advise against this practice called pollarding or "topping" of trees.

Types of pruning

Regardless of the various names used for types of pruning, there are only two basic cuts: One cuts back to an intermediate point, called heading back cut, and the other cuts back to some point of origin, called thinning out cut.[1]

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 as heading-back.

  1. 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. [1] 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 pruning roses and for implifying and "opening-up" the branching of neglected trees, or for renewing shrubs with multiple branches.
  2. 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 for pollarding or for trellising to form an espalier.

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.


Some tools utilized for pruning.

The general rule to pruning is to always cut in a location where growth will occur, whether the cut is next to a bud or another branch. Cutting a branch beyond where growth will occur will prevent the plant from forming a callus over the cut surface, which in turn will invite insects and infection. It effectively kills all portions of that branch back to the closest branch, bud, or dormant bud clusters, leaving a stub of dead wood. The withered stub will eventually rot away and fall off. All cuts should be relatively smooth since this will aid in healing.

Also, the pruning cut should not be too large when compared to the growing point. For instance, a large cut on a 20 cm trunk down to a 15 cm branch should be fine, but the same cut to the trunk down to a 1 cm twig or bud is considerably less ideal and should be avoided if possible.

Pruning to bud

A correct pruning cut will allow for quick healing and promote vigorous growth from the closest bud to the cut. The cut should be close enough to the bud to reduce the size of the stub of dead wood that will form from the cut, but far enough away to prevent the bud from being adversely affected by the cut though desiccation. Cutting too close to the bud (under-cutting) sometimes results in the death of the bud, which results in a scenario similar to cutting too far away from the bud (over-cutting). In general, a correct cut should be angled at a moderate 35-45 degree slant such that its lowest point is situated on the same level as the tip of the growth bud. This technique is usually applied when pinching or when cutting-back.

Pruning to a main branch

The pruning cut should occur slightly away from and follow the branch collar. When cutting away branches growing directly from the roots, the cut should be flush and level to the ground. This technique is usually applied when thinning or to remove larger dead or damaged branches.

When using pruning shears or loppers to remove a branch back to a main branch, the "hook" portion of the shears should always face away from the main branch. This ensures that the blade will not leave a protruding stub and the hook will not damage the branch collar or parts of the main branch.

Large heavy branches

Depending on the weight of the branch, the first cut should be a notch on the underside of the branch about a third to half of the way through. The bulk of the branch should then be removed with a follow-through cut slightly above the first cut, thus leaving a limb stub. The purpose of this is to stop the weight of the branch from tearing the bark of the tree from the underside, which would normally occur if the removal was done with one cut. The limb stub ensures that any cracking of the wood resulting from the branch separation is limited to the portion of the wood to be removed. The branch collar should then be located, and can be identified by the strip of rough bark running down from the topside of the branch at its junction with the stem. The cut for removing the limb stub should be just outside the branch collar, leaving a small bump. The bump and the branch collar should not be removed since this action can reduce healing time, which could result in a major infection.

Time period

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

External links


  1. ^ a b The Basics of Pruning
  • Sunset Editors, (1995) Western Garden Book, Sunset Books Inc, ISBN 978-0376038517

1. James, N. D. G, The arboriculturalist’s companion, second edition 1990, Blackwell Publishers Ltd, Great Britain.

2. Shigo, A, 1991, Modern arboriculture, third printing, Durham, New Hampshire, USA, Shirwin Dodge Printers.

3. Shigo, A, 1989, A New Tree Biology. Shigo & trees Associates.

4. 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.

5. Shigo. A. L, 1998, Modern Arboriculture, third printing (2003), USA, Sherwin Dodge Printers

6. British standards 3998:1989, Recommendations for Tree Work.

7. Lonsdale. D, 1999, Principles of tree hazard assessment and management, 6th impression 2008, forestry commission, Great Britain.


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