Specialty Tree Pruning
Douglas L. Airhart & Guy Zimmerman III

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Right Tree / Right Place

Selecting Trees

Transplanting Trees

Mulching & Staking

Summary Diagram 

Pruning Trees

Topping Hurts!

Protecting Trees

Tree Root Myths

Pine Bark Beetles

Live Christmas Trees


List of Figures

List of Video Vignettes

Related Links



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    Pruning Trees- Specialty Tree Pruning and Maintenance: 

Example: Young Kousa Dogwood: Video Vignette - (See it live!)

Kousa dogwoods are attractive landscape trees that tolerate more sunlight and drier conditions than flowering dogwoods, and they are not as susceptible to dogwood anthracnose. Their flowers appear later in the spring after the leaves develop, and bracts are initially light green and turn white as they develop. This young tree has typical problems to correct.

Mulch should not be applied up and onto the trunk of any tree. When you see mulch piled high on the trunk, gently remove as much as it takes to expose the trunk flare. Tree bark is designed to prevent water loss and protect the tree from external hazards. It will withstand bright light and high heat. It will not withstand decay organisms that thrive in dark moist conditions under the mulch. It is a good idea to mulch the root zone under the canopy drip line.

It is frequently easier to start at the bottom of the tree and work your way up correcting problems. Prune off any root suckers, and remove the smaller trunk twigs. If you mulch out to the drip line, mower damage can be reduced. If lawn mowers must operate under the canopy, begin to gradually raise the height of the lowest branches to make clearance for the mower or mower operator. This may take two or three years as the tree gains size and spread.

Dogwoods are most attractive when pruned to emphasize the horizontal lateral branches. Because dogwoods have an opposite branching pattern (two stems at each node), it is common for the canopy to become crowded with branches growing vertically and into the center. Following the rule of the Five Dís, remove those and any smaller crowding branches to allow more air and light penetration into the canopy, and remove any water sprouts and branches growing vertically or back into the canopy.

Example: Established Crabapple: Video Vignette- (See it live!)

An established ĎEvelyní crabapple with small orange fruits has been neglected. The branches overhang a sidewalk and are very crowded in the canopy. It is the responsibility homeowners to keep the sidewalks free of obstructions. A good rule to follow is to elevate the branches as high as you can reach (about eight feet) with your extended arm. This should leave enough room for most pedestrians to safely walk under the tree without hitting branches.

When raising the branch height over a sidewalk and selecting branches to remove, you have three choices:


    remove the entire branch back to the stem where it originates (thinning);


    remove a portion that is directly over the sidewalk but prune it back to a side branch growing away from the sidewalk (lateral pruning) or;


    cutting the branch end back to a bud that is pointing away from the sidewalk (heading back).

In all cases, be sure to protect the branch collars when removing any branches, no matter what size.

Work slowly and from the lower to upper branches. Sometimes just removing a stem or smaller stems that are growing downward toward the sidewalk will reduce the weight of a branch and it will rise up to give adequate clearance over the sidewalk.

Example: Weak Crotch Removal: Video Vignette- (See it live!)

Another Example: Included Bark in a Mature Maple: Video Vignette (See it live!)

A mature crabapple that has been neglected has a severe problem of root sprouts at the trunk flare. The soil and mulch has been piled so high that the root zone is difficult to identify. The canopy has numerous mature water sprouts and crossing branches that need removal.

Example: Mature Crabapple: Video Vignette - (See it live!) 

It will be necessary to dig excess soil and mulch from around the trunk flare zone to expose where the root suckers originate at the roots. In this case many hours will be needed to dig out the area and to prune back the root suckers.


Purpose    Right Tree / Right Place    Selecting Trees    Transplanting Trees    Mulching & Staking    Summary Diagram     Pruning Trees    Topping Hurts!      Protecting Trees     Tree Root Myths     Pine Bark Beetles     Live Christmas Trees     Glossary     List of Figures    List of Video Vignettes    Related Links     Bibliography


TLCforTrees.info is maintained by: Douglas Airhart, Ph.D. Certified Arborist & Jeff Plant, Ph.D, Last Updated on: 07/11/03