University of Tennessee
Forest Resources AgResearch and Education Center
Oak Ridge Forest Cumberland Forest Highland Rim Forest Arboretum

Tree Pruning and Maintenance

Shade trees need care and maintenance to remain healthy and structurally sound, to have a pleasing appearance, and to prolong their useful life. Pruning is one of the most important of all tree maintenance practices.

Eight trees were chosen to show various pruning schemes that are either commonly practiced or have application in specific circumstances. For the purpose of demonstration, three practices were included that may cause harm to the long-term health of a tree.

Tree "A" - Pin Oak

Crown Reduction/Shaping
A pruning application to reduce tree height and crown size. Primarily used to lessen wind stress. Used selectively on trees judged to be a hazard in high wind conditions.

Pruning techniques:
1. Limbs cut back to major lateral branch
2. Removal of dead branches
3. Removal of minor branches
4. Crown height raised (lower branches cut)
5. Reduction of overall crown size.

Tree "B" - Pin Oak

Lion's-tailing
A pruning practice perceived to improve appearance but may be harmful to the long-term health of the tree.

Pruning techniques:
1. Removal of dead branches
2. Removal of weak branches
3. Removal of all secondary branches from major limbs, except those at the ends of the limbs - "lion's tails".

Potential harm in Lion's-tailing:
1. Limbs become weak and may break
2. Increased sunlight on interior limbs may cause sun scald
3. Increased weakly attached new growth in interior portion of crown
4. Removal of too much foliage which disrupts growth
5. Modification of tree's appearance which may reduce its value.

Tree "C" - Pin Oak

Crown Cleaning, Thinning, and Raising
Maximum/full pruning care to improve both tree health and appearance.

Pruning techniques:
1. Removal of dead, dying, diseased, and weakened branches
2. Removal of selective branches to improve light penetration, air movement, and reduce weight
3. Removal of crossing and rubbing branches
4. Crown height raised by removing lower limbs.

Tree "D" - Pin Oak

Crown Cleaning
Minimal pruning care to improve tree health.

Pruning techniques:
1. Removal of dead, dying, and diseased branches
2. Removal of weak branches.

Tree "E" - Sugar Maple

Topping
A common pruning application to reduce tree size. This practice is judged to be severely damaging to the long-term health of a tree.

Potential harm with topping:
1. Removal of the crown which upsets the root-to-crown ratio, limiting the tree's ability to sustain its own roots
2. Large wounds which promote decay
3. Limbs weakened by decay which cannot handle the weight of rapid regrowth
4. Excessive removal of foliage disrupts the tree's energy production and storage.

This is NOT a recommended practice!

Tree "F" - Sugar Maple

Crown Cleaning, Thinning, and Raising
Maximum/full pruning care to improve overall tree health and appearance.

Pruning techniques:
1. Removal of dead, dying, diseased, and weakened branches
2. Removal of selective branches to improve light penetration, air movement, and reduce weight
3. Removal of crossing and rubbing branches
4. Crown height raised.

Tree "G" - Sugar Maple

Crown Round-Over
A pruning practice used to shape tree's upper crown and reduce height; a practice perceived to enhance aesthetics. Similar to topping but less extreme.

Potential harm in crown round-over:
1. Unnatural appearance of tree
2. Branches lacking a terminal leader because they are pruned back (hedged) indiscriminately.

This is NOT a recommended practice!

Tree "H" - Sugar Maple

Light Crown Cleaning, Thinning and Raising with Cable Bracing
Full pruning care to improve overall tree health and appearance, with addition of cable bracing to stabilize weak branches.

Cable Bracing:
This tree's growth characteristics include branches that are attached at a sharp angle causing acute forking. This condition can cause the limbs to split away or apart. Cable bracing overcomes this weakness by giving extra support so that the useful life of the tree can be extended.


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University of Tennessee - Forest Resources AgResearch and Education Center
901 South Illinois Avenue, Oak Ridge, Tennessee 37830 · Telephone: 865-483-3571 · Email: UTforest@utk.edu