Helpful Tips for Pruning Trees

Written by Brandon Hogan
Updated June 15, 2021
Trees growing outside a home.
If left alone, many trees would establish branches much lower to the ground. Homeowners often prefer to remove these lower limbs. If done properly, this shouldn’t harm the tree.
Photo courtesy Earth Wood Landscaping

Some tree pruning is necessary for yard maintenance; but go too far, and your landscape may suffer.

Get quotes from up to 3 pros!
Enter a zip below and get matched to top-rated pros near you.

Trees can add value and beauty to your property … but sometimes they need a little help to reach their full potential without becoming a nuisance.

Learning how to prune a tree can help many types of trees, of varying ages and sizes, to fit into their surrounding environment.

The lowdown on tree pruning

If left alone, many trees commonly found in the landscape would most likely establish branches much lower to the ground.

Homeowners often prefer to remove these lower limbs, to improve a view from the house or porch, or to make it easier to mow the grass beneath the tree.

If done properly, pruning these lower limbs shouldn’t have a negative impact over the life of most trees.

How much to remove when pruning trees

How much to prune? Consider these factors:

• Your tree’s species, size, age, condition and location. Many species, such as Japanese maple, dogwood and magnolias, commonly branch relatively low to the ground. Removing too much from these trees can greatly impact their appearance.

• How tall is your tree? The current and mature height of the tree is an important consideration. A 100-foot oak tree’s first 10 feet of branches generally won’t be as important or have as big of an impact when removed, as the first 10 feet of branches on a 12-foot-tall crabapple.

• How much clearance do you need? Before you prune, think about whether you just need enough room to mow beneath the tree … or whether you need to allow enough space for the UPS truck to pass safely down the street. But remember: removing too many lower limbs can greatly impact a tree’s health.

Should you prune your tree to help the grass grow?

Many times, homeowners think that pruning lower tree limbs is the solution for helping the underperforming grass below a tree’s canopy. It’s true that lower limbs can reduce the light reaching the lawn. But pruning often will be only a temporary, or even ineffective, solution.

Depending on the species of tree, selectively reducing the length of the limbs can allow more light to reach the turf.

Whether you remove or trim branches, these options will require continuing maintenance as trees grow.

Another possible cause of under-performing grass can be competition between the roots of the lawn and tree for the same resources in the soil. Most species of plant roots search the soil for the same things, and in some settings, tree roots essentially win the battle, leading to poor performing grass. Consider creating a mulch ring below the tree instead of fighting to keep turf established.

Know when to call in an arborist

Pruning to raise a tree’s canopy can be challenging, and may require a bit more expertise than many homeowners are comfortable with. Using a qualified arborist for larger/higher up projects is generally the safe and responsible way to go.

Pruning smaller trees and shrubs, however, is something most homeowners can undertake.

When you call a tree service to come out, ask about how to prune smaller plants on your property. Good arborists should be just as knowledgeable about a giant poplar removal as the small ornamental plum next to the sidewalk.

About this Experts Contributor: Brandon Hogan is a consulting arborist for Heartwood Tree Service, providing tree service in Charlotte, N.C. Since 1979, Heartwood has specialized in tree pruning, removal, fertilization, stump grinding, insect control and more. They are a recipient of the 2013 Angie’s List Super Service Award. Visit this contributor’s website at HeartwoodTree.com.

As of August 4, 2014, this service provider was highly rated on Angie's List. Ratings are subject to change based on consumer feedback, so check Angie's List for the most up-to-date reviews. The views expressed by this author do not necessarily reflect those of Angie's List.

Need professional help with your project?
Get quotes from top-rated pros.