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Pruning Types                         

Pruning Types

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.

Removing a portion of a growing stem down to a set of desirable buds or side-branching stems (lateral limb). 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.


Click on the specific topic of interest below to learn more and then contact us if you are interested in obtaining consultation or a FREE estimate for your project.

    Incorrectly called topping

Reduces the
size/height of a tree by 10 to 30% to acceptable levels. This type of pruning works well on ornamentals to achieve a certain desired aesthetic effect. Compared to topping, reduction helps maintain the form and structural integrity of the tree.

Illustration: Before crown reduction.  Tree branches have not yet been removed.After crown Reduction Illustration:  Reducing the size/height of a tree. Compared to topping, reduction helps maintain the form and structural integrity of the tree.
his is the best solution where the tree's crown is simply too large, but it is important to retain a natural tree 'shape'. We reduce the height and spread of the crown by pruning each and every
h back to a suitable union, applying 'Drop-Crotch' technique, to create a balanced tree shape and outline. The amount by which we reduce the tree is best described as a percentage (for example, "reduce the crown by 20%").

Many consumers refer this method as Tree 'topping' which is a misnomer - see 'A Word on Topping' to understand the difference.

Crown Thinning 

The selective removal of branches to increase light penetration and air movement through the crown. Includes crown cleaning and removing unnecessary crossing or competing branches. This allows for more air and light to pass through the tree and reduces pressure on the plant.

This is often the best solution where a tree has grown too dense and vigorous for a garden or site. We reduce the overall density of th
Illustration: Before. selective removal of branches to increase light penetration and air movement through the crownCrown Thinning Illustratione crown by removing dead and crossing branches as well as secondary branches. This leaves the main branch structure of the tree intact and minimizes the amount of vigorous 'regrowth' seen after pruning. Thinning reduces the likelihood of a tree blowing over in strong winds.

The tree retains its natural shape, yet allows far more light through the canopy and onto the ground. We can thin the whole tree crown or just specific areas.

Crown Cleaning 
Typically performed on landscape trees, Crown Cleaning primary focus is the selective removal of branches from the crown of a tree that are dead (deadwooding), dying, hazardous, diseased, or and to also correct structural problems and crowding; as well as sucker growth from within the tree's canopy.

Illustration: Before crown cleaning.  No tree branches have been removed.After Crown Cleaning Illustration: The removal of dead, dying, diseased, crowded, weakly attached, and low-vigor branches from the crown of a tree.Crown cleaning will promote better scaffold limb structure, and allow for better movement of air through the tree's canopy.  Better air flow means less wind resistance, thus reducing the chances of limb breakage during strong weather systems. Crown cleaning will also restore the tree's natural beauty and grace.
This reduces hazards, decreases property damage and helps to promote healthy tissue. Regular pruning can eliminate these small problems before they become big ones.


Crown Raising 

Also refereed to as 'Lifting'.

Removes the lower branches of the tree in order to provide clearance for buildings, vehicles, pedestrians, and vistas. It's also performed to increase visibility, reduce hazards near walkways and provide clearance to facilitate lawn-mowing. Removing the lower branches from a tree  Branches scratching against a roof or wall can cause extensive

Illustration: Before tree raising. Removing the lower branches from a tree in order to provide clearance for buildings, vehicles, pedestrians, and vistas.Crown Raising Illustration
Crown lifting increases the clearance of the lower branches of a tree, perhaps to increase the amount of light and space in a garden, or to provide a clear way for a footpath or building. The lower branches are usually completely removed.

Work is normally specified in terms of the required distance from the ground to the lowest branches. For example "lift the crown to 8 feet above the ground".


Crown Clearing 

Relates to a specific limb or area of limbs interfering or threatening, requiring the cut back pruning of branches away from a home, utility lines, structure or street - to eliminate damage potential to a structure or vehicle.

Critical Drop-Crotch pruning is very important in Crown Clearing or die-back of the remaining limb(s) will occur if the cut is not brought back to a intermediate point, called heading back cut, which has sustainable lateral branch.

Drop-Crotch Pruning 

Drop-crotch pruning technique is used when making thinning cuts to remove interfering or deadwooding and thinning out new shoots lightly.

Designed to keep the natural look of the tree, drop-crotch pruning thins and is applied to all cut-back applications - it is the only acceptable procedure to use and accepted by tree owners. The branches are cut back to a natural crotch or branch rather than cut back to a stub. This means existing branches will act as leaders. It is always preferable to use this pruning technique in preference to topping a tree.

Drop crotch pruning reduces the length of a limb by cutting it back to a lateral branch that can assume the missing limbs role in maintaining apical dominance. The lateral to which a branch or trunk is cut should be at least one-half the diameter of the cut being made.

If tree is properly pruned, the untrained eye may not even notice the changes - and after all... that's the whole idea is to NOT to loose its natural character while achieving the goal.


> Keeps a natural look
> Maintain health of tree
> Remove deadwood
> Reduces chance of storm damage

We don't recommend tree-topping, as it hurts trees. The crop of shoots often seen erupting after topping is because the tree has been stripped of foliage and therefore deprived of food. Topping can cause decay, and make trees look ugly. It is a high-maintenance practice with hidden costs, which could cost you far more in the long run than hiring a qualified arborist.

Corrective Pruning 

Also applies to 'Renovative and Restoration' Pruning

This is a process we use by which a damaged tree, either by nature or severe trimming, is pruned to regain it natural shape as much as physically possible and trained to resume its natural growth habit. Restoration works to improve the tree's appearance and structure. The process could take more than one session as it grows and fills out.
  • Plants that have been improperly “topped” can have their watersprouts (small limbs growing vertically from larger limbs) pruned to re-establish a better branch structure for the tree.  If they are not removed, they will steal energy from the tree.
  • Suckers, which grow from the base of the tree or the roots, should also be pruned as soon as they appear before they weaken the tree.
  • Trees may develop co-dominant (two equal) leader stems as well as weakly attached branches from improper pruning or damage. These should be removed when the trees are young to prevent wounds from breakage. Rubbing and crossed branches should also be removed as soon as they are found
  •  Many factors may damage branches from storms to people, animals or pests. Damaged branches affect the tree’s appearance, create safety issues, and are breeding grounds for insect and disease damage and should be removed as soon as possible

Corrective Pruning helps to reclaim your trees natural beauty through a combination of many factors. After an inspection of your tree the restoration can involve corrective pruning, remediation of poor cultural practices and soil conditions. Repair of your soil can involve aeration or air spading of compacted soils as well as vertical mulching.

Preventative Pruning 

Young Trees
Trees growing in our Ozark urban and suburban landscapes offer many benefits to the community. However, when a tree or part of a tree breaks, it can cause extensive damage to people and or property. A preventive pruning program is an important tool to minimize the risks of tree defects.

Over the years we have found the most common defects are codominant stems and aggressive low branches that either split  from the tree (photo) or result in large pruning cuts upon removal. Problems such as these result in tree stress, reduce the life span of the tree, and place people and property at risk.

Preventive pruning helps to promote good structure, making trees more resistant to storms and other natural forces. Pruning trees significantly reduces trunk movement and damage when exposed to excessive winds. Trees with good structure are characterized by a single dominant leader, strong branch unions without bark inclusions and a balanced canopy. Preventive or structural pruning is a process that can help to reduce damage against the forces of natures violent side.

Dead, weak or diseased trees or branches pose an imminent risk to people and property in stormy seasons. Violent winds can cause structural failures in trees which can result in serious damage to property and injury to people and pets.

Thinning a tree canopy by removing densely growing branches will reduce the wind resistance and potential breakage of the canopy.  Removing broken or cracked branches would reduce the hazard of falling debris caused by high winds or ice.

Structural weaknesses such as narrow branch crotches and rubbing branches should also be considered during preventative pruning to determine what is most likely to stand up to the battering of high winds brought on by the increasing forces of spring storms and rigors of our winter weather.

Pruning to Promote Strong Structure
Developing a preventive pruning program requires that your Tree Service Provider be familiar with the techniques of structural pruning. Structural pruning should be practiced for the first 15 to 25 years of a tree’s life. This is the amount of time required to establish strong structure in the canopy and will help to make the tree more resistant to storm damage. In structural pruning, reduction and removal cuts are used to slow the growth of large or rapidly growing branches that compete with the leader. This encourages the one stem you chose as the leader to grow faster.

Mature Trees

A preventive pruning program should be designed to create structurally sound trunk and branch architecture that will sustain a tree for a long time. The goal with mature trees is to develop and maintain a sound structure to minimize hazards such as branch failure. This task is easier provided a good structure was established earlier in the tree’s life.

When properly executed, a variety of benefits are derived from pruning. Benefits include reduced risk of branch and stem breakage, better clearance for vehicles and pedestrians, improved health and appearance, and enhanced view. When improperly performed, pruning can harm a tree’s health, stability, and appearance. Several consequences occur when pruning is not performed at all. These consequences include development of low limbs; weak, codominant stems; defects such as included bark; and accumulation of dead branches. Formation of codominant stems and defects such as included bark can lead to increased risk of breakage.

With mature trees it is important to minimize hazards such as branch failure. Failures not only hurt the tree, but can also cause damage to people and property. Live branch removal is less desirable on mature trees, but it is sometimes necessary,
for instance to remove a cracked live branch over a house.

When planning a pruning program: 1. The customer must understand it is essential to first evaluate the tree, and 2. The arborist must understand the customer’s needs in relationship to what the landscape can provide. This will aid in determining which objectives should be accomplished with pruning. Our arborist will then choose the appropriate pruning methods to meet these objectives, and will then enter each tree and make the appropriate pruning cuts for the chosen pruning methods. This arboricultural decision is based on an understanding of branch attachment and tree biology.

Determine Pruning Objectives
No tree should be pruned without first establishing clearly defined objectives. Seven main objectives are described below, along with pruning methods that help meet those objectives. These objectives serve as examples and can be expanded or shortened to meet site conditions and customer expectations. Removing the correct stems and branches to accomplish specified objectives is as important as making correct pruning cuts. Even with proper pruning cuts, if the wrong branches or too many branches are removed, nothing of merit has been accomplished.

    a. Reduce Risk of Failure: Reduce failure risk by learning to recognize the structural problems
        in trees that can lead to failure.
    b. Promote Human Safety: If hazardous structural issues in trees can be recognized prior to a
        storm, pruning can help to mitigate their damaging effects.
    c. Allow for Safe Passage: Growth can be directed away from an object such as a building,
        security light, or power line by reducing or removing limbs on that side of the tree.
    d. Increase Sun Penetration to the Ground: A lawn, ground covers, or shrubs can receive
        more sunlight when live foliage is removed from the crown of large overstory trees.
    e. Maintain Health: Health can be maintained by cleaning the crown, especially in medium-aged
        and mature trees. Removing dead, diseased, and rubbing branches in the crown of young
        trees also is important.
    f. Influence Flower or Fruit Production: Pruning can influence the number and/or size of
       flowers or fruit.
    g. Improve Aesthetics: A tree can be pruned to improve appearance. Cleaning, reducing,
        thinning, and restoring can be used to meet this objective.

Determining Your Objectives

The major objective of preventive structural pruning is to direct the growth of the tree so that it forms a sustainable structure. This is accomplished by pruning stems and branches that are not growing in the correct direction or position.

A little bit of preventative maintenance can go a long way. Lakes Tree Care technicians are trained to spot potential problems and perform the necessary pruning techniques before the tree or limb become dangerous. Give us a try - fill out our 'Request Estimate' form... what have you got to loose?

Aesthetic Pruning 

Aesthetics is a principle of perception that deals with the nature and expression of artistically beautiful or being pleasing in appearance. In the case of your home property; its the all-encompassing balance of your trees as set within your landscape theme.

Homeowners typically spend lots of time caring for their property and aesthetics is a key element in achieving that goal. Be it a modest ranch house or a mansion on top of a hill, a home’s outside appearance is often a point of pride for homeowners.

One commonly overlooked element of an aesthetically appealing home is the role trees can play. Trees can add an element of beauty to a yard while also playing a practical role, such as shading and cooling the house and also the grass from intense summer sun and acting as great support for hanging a hammock or bird feeder.

While trees can add appeal to a homeowner’s property, they can also be an eyesore if not properly pruned. Homeowners hoping to get the most out of their trees should consider having their trees pruned to bring out the best of natures artistic media palate of the surrounding environment in which your trees function and thrive.  

Aesthetic pruning can enhance the natural form and character of your trees and have a positive effect on your entire property.

Trees are pruned for safety, health and aesthetically
pleasing shapes, and aesthetic pruning can be done to enhance the natural form of a single tree or the coppice of small trees or a grove of mature shade trees.

Most homeowners and landscapers do not posses the required knowledge or the proper equipment, particularly for aerial work to perform this task.

Staying up on maintenance can be a daunting chore, and trees in particular, can be the most challenging to manage. Lakes Tree Service is available and ready to take a lot of this burden off your shoulders.

Specialty Pruning 

Ornamental, both flowering trees and evergreens, plus an introduction to fruiting specimens. Ornamental flowering trees can produce berries to attract birds, while evergreens offer year-round foliage.

Trees such as Redbud, Dogwood, Japanese Maple, and similar types are popular plants and should be pruned on a regular bases before they outgrow their space and effect the overall theme. In addition, dwarfs, weeping specimens, apple stock and ornamental trees are valued for the shade they bring - all are presented in light of what they can do for your landscaping.

Fruit tree pruning is becoming increasingly popular as more consumers grow apples, pears, citrus, and other fruit bearing plants in their gardens. Vista pruning, which is judicious removal of branches to enhance a specific view from a defined location, is also frequently performed especially for consumers with homes near mountains or the shore.

Formative Pruning  

There are two principle goals with starting Formative Pruning that are critical to perform at an early age -

Pruning for Long-Term Structure

Formative or structural pruning is a process conducted over years of the trees' lifespan. Periodical selective pruning is performed to direct the structural formation of the tree giving it  best chance for a long and healthy life.

Pruning trees from the time they leave the nursery provides the greatest benefit to train them to ensure their performance, landscape potential and safety, and to minimize future maintenance costs. Unfortunately, this procedure  is not a standard practice in nurseries. Thus, trees may acquire structural defects that can damage property, cause personal injury or cause the tree to become a liability or to fail. Trees with failures usually need to be removed.

Proper training reduces structural defects: co-dominant stems, multiple branches, weak attachments and overly dense canopies. It reduces hazard potential, thereby giving trees a longer life span. Trained trees will have fewer branches that are well spaced, thus needing less pruning and providing easier access for arborists as the tree matures.

Improving Root Development:

On currently planted young trees, our strategy for improving root development begins with inspection of the 'root flare'; the juncture of where the first main root meets the trees trunk, and the removal of any soil or mulch above this point. A deep root flare is extremely detrimental and can cause the tree to strangle itself as it grows known as 'stem girdling roots.

A Word on Topping 


Topping is perhaps the most harmful tree pruning practice known, but remains a common practice. Topping is the senseless practice of indiscriminately removing a majority of a tree's branches. Topping violates most commonly accepted methods of proper pruning; it is an assault on the health and beauty of your trees.

It is the heavy removal of branches to large 'stubs', and is often peddled as 'crown reduction' or 'pollarding' by rogue traders, as it is the easiest, quickest and cheapest option from their point of view. Not only are you left with a tree that looks like an ungraceful, ugly mess during the winter months, you are left with a tree that is actually more hazardous in the long run.

topped tree
Five important facts to remember about tree topping:

  1. Topping will not make trees safe; it actually creates hazardous trees.
  2. Topping makes a tree more susceptible to storm damage.
  3. Topping makes a tree more prone to insect and disease problems.
  4. Topping is: abuse, vandalism, dangerous, expensive, mutilation, ugly.
  5. Topping is a waste of money.
Problems caused by topping:
  • New growth is weak. At best, the wood of a new limb that sprouts after a larger limb is cut is more weakly attached than a limb that develops more normally. If rot exists or develops at the severed end of the limb, the weight of the sprout makes a bad situation even worse.
  • Rapid new growth. The goal of topping is usually to control the height and spread of a tree. Actually, it has the opposite effect. The resulting sprouts are far more numerous than the normal new growth, and they elongate so rapidly that the tree returns to its original height in a very short time.
  • Insects and disease. The large stubs of a topped tree have a difficult time forming a callus. The terminal location of these cuts, as well as their large diameter, prevent the tree's chemically-based natural defense system from doing its job. The stubs are highly vulnerable to insect invasion and the spores of decay fungi.
  • Sunscald can occur. Bark tissues suddenly exposed to full sun may be burned and develop into disease cankers.
  • Starvation. Good pruning practices rarely remove more than 1/3 of the crown, which does not seriously interfere with the ability of a tree's leafy crown to manufacture food. Topping removes so much of the crown that it upsets an older tree's well-developed crown to root ratio and temporarily cuts off its food making ability.
Crown reduction is an alternative to topping large trees.

Crown Reduction is accomplished by removing larger branches at the top and/or side of the tree. Branches are removed above a lateral branch, refered to as drop-crotch pruning, that will increase in size after cutting. Stubs are not left on this pruning job!

In some cases, it may be best to simply remove the tree.

Hedges, Shrubs, and Evergreens  

Maintaining your hedges and shrubs through proper pruning - is healthier, longer-lived, and better looking than one where an inexperienced hand simply dove in with a pair of loppers. If there's anything that can transform the aesthetics of your properties landscape for the dollar is your hedges and shrubbery. Dollar for dollar this is you best value of enhancement.


Hedges are shaped in two basic ways:

Formal and Informal - formal means that you shear them, informal means that they look more natural and you selectively prune them to control size and maintain their good looks. A big difference between the two styles is the amount of time it takes to maintain them.

Formal Hedges - typically bear small leaves and are sheared to a smooth and uniform surface to create a solid, usually geometric wall of green.


Regular pruning lets you keep normally tall plants, such as hemlock, at a much lower height without their growing into a row of trees. Most formal hedges need pruning at least once a year, while those with faster-growing plants or in regions with a longer growing season may need it twice per season.

The right pruning helps hedges provide the denseness and privacy you expect, compared with the bare spots that often result from a subpar job. Regular pruning lets you keep normally tall plants, such as hemlock, at a much lower height without their growing into a row of trees. Most formal hedges need pruning at least once a year, while those with faster-growing plants or in regions with a longer growing season may need it twice per season. Before planting a formal hedge, consider the time and expense of maintaining one that grows taller than you can reach or requires frequent trimming.

Hedges should be pruned so they’re wider at the base than at the top, to allow all parts to receive sunlight and prevent legginess. On large mature hedges that have been pruned wrong and have dieback causing legginess, restoration may be marginal. A close inspection will be required to determine if the effort and expense is viable or if removal and replanting is the best direction to go.


nformal (Natural) Hedges:

are loose and more casual in appearance. They have larger leaves, are generally wider than a formal hedge of the same height and are often chosen in part for their flowers and fruit.


When to Prune:

For slow-growing evergreen shrubs, such as arborvitae yew, and hemlocks - prune in late spring or early summer just as the new flush of growth begins to mature and harden. (A plant is slow growing if new spring growth is 5 inches or less.) Look for a change in color from lighter to darker green. New growth will cover pruning wounds and cover the hedge. Some plants will need a late summer touch-up on a few shoots to maintain their formal look. But avoid cutting into old wood in late summer so that new shoots mature in time for winter.

For fast-growers such as hemlock, prune after the spring flush of growth. Doing so slows growth and leaves a neatly shaped hedge for the longest period. If the hedge requires a second pruning, do it by late July so that new growth can mature and harden before frost.

Prune hedges of deciduous shrubs in late winter or early spring while they're dormant. Prune again in midsummer to maintain their formal appearance.Even though these plants will tolerate heavy shearing, their natural form is usually most desirable, so prune only to correct growth defects. 



Pruning recommendations for most deciduous shrubs consist of crown thinning, gradual renewal and rejuvenation pruning. In crown thinning, a branch or twig is cut off at its point of origin from either the parent stem or ground level. 


This pruning method results in a more open plant; it does not stimulate excessive new growth, but does allow room for growth of side branches. Considerable growth can be cut off without changing the plant's natural appearance or growth habit. Plants can be maintained at a given height and width for years by thinning out. This method is best done with hand pruning shears, loppers or a saw, but not with hedge shears. Thin out the oldest and tallest stems first.

In gradual renewal pruning, a few of the oldest and tallest branches are removed at or slightly above ground level on an annual basis.  Some thinning may be necessary to shorten long branches or maintain a symmetrical shape.

If a shrub is grown for its flowers, time the pruning to minimize disruption of blooming. Spring flowering shrubs bloom on last season's growth and should be pruned soon after they bloom. This allows for vigorous summertime growth and results in plenty of flower buds the following year.

Renewal Pruning for Older or Overgrown Shrubs:

Every year remove up to one-third of the oldest, tallest and thickest stems or trunks, taking them right down to ground level before new growth starts. This will encourage the growth of new stems from the roots. Once there are no longer any thick, overgrown trunks left, switch to standard pruning as needed.

Haircut Shearing (Formal) vs. Branch to Branch Shaping (Informal/Natural):

Shearing shrubs to a round ball or other desired shape is known as formal pruning and is a desired effect, but it is also is a common pruning technique because it is quick, easy, and less expense when hiring a service provider.

However, sheared shrubs lose their natural shape and the rounded “balls” may detract from a more natural informal landscape design. Shaping spring flowering shrubs after mid-summer removes the new wood with next year’s blossoms. Frequent shearing does not encourage new growth from the base, which is needed to promote flowering.

With frequent shearing, the plant becomes bushier on the exterior. The thick outer foliage may shade out the interior and lower foliage and the plant becomes a thin shell of foliage with a woody interior and base. The thin shell of foliage is prone to browning and burning from wind and cold weather. Over time, shrubs become woody with lots of dead branches and few flowers. When shrubs become overly woody from routine shearing, replacement is the best option to refresh the
landscape design.

With branch to branch shaping, long branches are cut back into the shrub, giving a more natural shape. This process is a time-consuming method of pruning, but if you prefer the natural look the results are worth the effort. The long branches are cut back one at a time, making the cuts at the union between branches or buds. Placing the cuts in this location reduces the appearance of knobby, balled branch tips.

Tasters Choice - It really comes down to the customers preference in shape themes and/or how much the customer is willing to invest.

Evergreens Trees:  

With few exceptions, evergreens (conifers) require little pruning. Different types of evergreens should be pruned according to their varied growth habits.

  • Spruces, firs and douglas-firs don’t grow continuously, but can be pruned any time because they have lateral (side) buds that will sprout if the terminal (tip) buds are removed. It’s probably best to prune them in late winter, before growth begins. Some spring pruning, however, is not harmful.

  • Pines only put on a single flush of tip growth each spring and then stop growing. Prune before these “candles” of new needles become mature. Pines do not have lateral buds, so removing terminal buds will take away new growing points for that branch. Eventually, this will leave dead stubs.
  • Pines seldom need pruning, but if you want to promote more dense growth, remove up to two-thirds of the length of newly expanded candles. Don’t prune further back than the current year’s growth.

Ornamental Trees:  

Ornamental trees are smaller and usually have a flower or nice growing habit that make them ideal as a focal point in a landscape.

Ornamental trees should be pruned to remove competing branches. Weeping Cherries, Flowering Dogwood, Flowering Crabapples etc. tend to send branches in many different directions. It's our job  to make pruning and final shaping recommendations, bu it is up to the customer to decide how you want the plant to look, then LTS will prune your ornamentals to achieve that look.

objective of pruning ornamental trees, is to produce nice, shapely specimens that look attractive even when bare of leaves.
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