Badly pruned tree Reviews

How Not to Prune a Tree

Badly pruned tree

I’ll be the first to admit that pruning a tree involves as much art as it does science. But still, there’s a certain amount of knowledge and technique required to do it right … and the butcher who “pruned” this tree clearly didn’t have either!

Here in Connecticut (and in many other states), an individual needs an Arborist License to prune trees – and rightfully so. It’s not simply a matter of lopping off a few branches and calling it a day. Without a thorough understanding of tree physiology (to understand how the tree will respond to each type of intervention), the appropriate types of pruning cuts (and the tools to make those cuts), methods of supporting the tree (e.g., bracing, cabling), safety, soil biology, and more, it’s easy to end up with an extra-large, expensive coat rack on your lawn.

The maple tree in this photo had been losing leaves so the “tree care” worker recommended cutting it back hard to stimulate new growth. And yes, he really expected it to grow back, kind of like a flowering annual. That was last summer. This spring, the tree is dead.

Next time, hire a licensed/certified Arborist to prune your tree.

If in doubt, check an arborist’s credentials with the International Society of Arboriculture or your state licencing body.

What experiences have you had with tree pruning? How did it turn out?


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13 Comments on How Not to Prune a Tree

  1. Sue Craske

    Maybe he had succeeded with pruning a buddleia in the same way?
    Most other trees though, do appreciate being cut to a branch, (pointing in an elegant or suitable direction)

    • Monica Hemingway

      The funny thing here was that he HAD very carefully cut back to a side branch – it’s just that those “branches” we’re only the diameter of a pencil!

  2. The Don'z

    I trim trees regularly during the fall and winter, no special training, but I haven’t killed a tree yet lol (knock on wood)

  3. Maple trees should not be cut back hard or routinely pruned, because the result 95 times out of 100 is die-back. It is OK to remove dead wood, but otherwise Maples should not be cut. The only exception to this is in the vent that a Maple contracts Verticillium Wilt – a viral disease for which there is no chemical control – and the only remedy is to remove any dead or dying growth.

    • Monica Hemingway

      I think that’s one of the things a lot of people don’t realize – different species can take different types of pruning (or not), and at different times of year. It’s best to know exactly what you’re pruning, why, when it should be done, and how best to do it to meet the needs of that particular tree.

  4. emily snyder

    Looks like this baby was “pollarded” which is only for certain genuses but even under those circumstances, it is unwise. Read the following: Death by Pollarding

    Death by Pollarding
    by Toby Hindson

    “Pollarding” is a much misused term. Cutting the top off a tree and hoping it will grow back is not pollarding, whatever the man with the chain saw may tell you. Pollarding is a treatment that is given to young trees in order to make them grow with a short trunk and a bushy canopy so that they can be maintained by regular removal of young growth. Unfortunately people still try to pollard ancient yews, and in doing so they invariably kill them.

    So sad!

    • Monica Hemingway

      When in doubt, just give it a fancy name – that should make it sound like something that’s a good idea to do 😉

  5. Jeff Glander

    I feel bad admitting this, but I planted some Akebono Cherries at my house that have grown taller than I thought (hoped) they would. I have a view covenant with my neighbors and my trees are blocking their views. They are about 15 years old, have 18″ diameter trunks, and are about 30 feet high. I need to reduce their height by about half to conform to my view covenant…any suggestions or instructional links as to how I can do this and not ruin these trees?

    • Monica Hemingway

      Hi Jeff, Without seeing the trees, it’s hard to give you an exact answer. But I’m guessing that you’re out of luck with these cherry trees. Every living thing, including trees, have a size to which they’re predisposed to grow – and there’s not much we can do to change that. So, even if you could prune back these trees, they’d keep trying to grow back to their “right” size. I think that if you try to cut something this large down to half its size, you’ll end up with a tree that meets the same fate as the one in this article!

  6. I attended the Twin States ASLA conference last weekend and walked along a marina boardwalk during one of the breaks, to warm up after suffering through over zealous air condiitoning, and there I found a row of native oaks sheared into lollipops. They’d added twinkly lights to make them look “pretty”. When I see things like this I think we should have laws against bad pruning.

    In my next life I plan to come back as an arborist / horticulturalist and train people how to maintain the landscapes we so lovingly design.

    • Monica Hemingway

      It’s such a shame to see that done to beautiful trees (or at least they *would* be beautiful if we’d just leave them alone!). And, to add insult to injury, they added twinkly lights ?! Wow…

      Have you ever checked out Cass Turnbull’s Plant Amnesty website? ( She’s been advocating against the “torture and mutilation of trees and shrubs” since the late ’80s. She’s incredibly knowledgeable but also very funny. Worth looking into, especially in your next life 😉

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