Types of Tree Pruning, and Why You Should Care

hand holding shears pruning small green leafy branches

The goals of tree pruning are as diverse as there are types of trees.  Pruning can be a highly subjective activity, because most people already have a preconception as to how their tree should look.  There is nothing wrong with that!  Ultimately a tree owner’s taste in the tree’s aesthetics is what is most important.

However we have found the use of pruning terminology is very helpful in explaining and understanding the end-game of tree pruning.  Clearly conveying the customer’s goals is vital in successful pruning work. The following four classifications are some of the ways we communicate our pruning recommendations:

Deadwood Pruning

The removal of dead, dying, and diseased branches is the most basic, but underutilized, pruning types.  In the tree care industry, it is referred to as ‘Crown Cleaning.’  It’s not a question as to WHETHER a dead branch will fail, but WHEN.

Goal: the removal of dead and decayed branches that could cause injury, damage property, spread disease, or improve the general aesthetic of the tree.

Be careful: normally not all deadwood is removed.  Decide upon a minimum size of dead branch beforehand.

Result: a less-dangerous tree.  A tree that looks cleaner.



This process seeks to open the canopy by selectively removing branches on young trees throughout the crown. There is a strong emphasis on the removal of weak branches.  The industry refers to this as ‘Crown Thinning.’

Goal: Improve air and light penetration, or to lessen loads on larger limbs with defects.

Be careful: mature trees do not tolerate thinning as well as young trees.

Result: an open tree canopy, with other sun-loving plants enjoying the additional sunlight underneath.



When raising the canopy of a tree, limbs and branches in the lower portion of the canopy are removed.  Limbs conflicting with houses, traffic, sidewalks, or even other plants are targeted.  ‘Crown Raising’ is the industry specification.

Goal: selective pruning or removal of limbs to provide clearance for traffic, pedestrians, and landscape features.

Be careful: over-pruning low limbs may negatively affect the integrity of the trunk.  Conversely, neglecting the removal of low limbs at a young age can hurt the tree if postponed until the limb becomes too large.

Result: a tree that grows in harmony with the surrounding landscape.



Reduction seeks to lessen the mass of large limbs or even the height and size of the entire tree.    This intensive practice is a powerful size-management technique for young trees, but when the tree becomes too mature, reduction may not always be the best solution.  Sometimes it is better to simply remove the entire limb rather than reducing it.  Reduction involves the selective removal of terminal branches so that the entire limb mass can be preserved.  It is done in a way that the limb can continue a healthy growth pattern, and lessen the chance of decay at the pruning cut.

Goal: reduce the length or height of a limb, or to rescue the overall size of the tree canopy.

Be careful:  Reduction is a science and art.  Great care and knowledge of tree growth patterns must be exercised.

Result: a tree that is constrained in its proportions, without drastic alteration of the canopy shape.


All of these pruning techniques can be customized or combined to achieve a desired goal.  Your Tree Care Representative will discuss with you how pruning can be benefit your trees’ health and improve the quality and safety of your landscape.