Pruning and crown lifting a tree is important to increase the health of your tree. Pruning keeps trees from getting too dense, which can cause them to break in storms or when people walk under them and disturb their branches.
Crown lifting also helps with this by removing weight from lower limbs that are stressed out because they are bearing more than their share of the load. It’s best done during spring or summer when trees have leaves so you can see what you’re doing; winter pruning should be done sparingly as it removes energy-producing buds from the plant’s canopy.
Pruning a tree is usually done to remove dead or diseased branches, but it can also be used to control the size of the crown. Crown lifting is sometimes called “crown reduction” and involves cutting back the branches that grow upwards, so they are more horizontal and less dense.
This can help with wind resistance and storm damage by reducing weight on top of the trunk. It can also make climbing easier for maintenance workers while still preserving enough foliage for shade in warmer seasons. Proper pruning methods must be selected carefully based on each tree’s needs and personal preference for aesthetic purposes such as shape, height, and symmetry.
Is your house being overshadowed by a tree? If you’re thinking of calling in a tree surgeon to remove it. Stop right there! I’m going to explain why you need to crown lift first. Crown lifting is a relatively hidden pruning technique familiar with professional gardeners and arborists. Unfortunately, most new gardeners have no idea what it is. So today, I’m going to explain exactly why crown lifting should always be preferable to simply calling in the tree surgeon to remove a tree.
One of the biggest complaints is that older, larger trees block out light from peoples houses. The next step is usually having a tree surgeon turn up (or worse, a person with no arborist experience and an overly eager chain saw) and cut down the tree entirely. However, there’s an easier, cheaper and more environmentally friendly way to reduce trees shading your house. Which you can do yourself.
This article is going to show you how in a couple of hours with some basic tools you can not only keep your beautiful trees but let more light in around them. It’s a win for you and the environment.
What Is A Crown Lift?
A crown lift is the pruning technique of removing lower branches on a mature tree that lifts the tree’s canopy or crown. It’s a really simple technique that is woefully underused in tree pruning. In fact, crown pruning can often improve your tree’s health and surrounding plants due to the increase of light and air. Crown lift pruning of trees can also increase a tree’s vigour by sending energy resources elsewhere. Which helps to breathe life into an older unproductive tree.
I urge anyone thinking of cutting down a tree to think about a crown lift first, even if you do it to prove that the tree may need to be felled if nothing else. You will be amazed by the difference a decent crown lift can provide.
Crown lifting is probably the easiest tree surgery as in most cases, you won’t need a ladder, scary power tools or complicated techniques. For the most part, crown lifting can be done with both feet firmly on the ground using a saw and some gloves.
Pruning a tree to let in more light
If you have large mature trees in your garden, you may find that they cast a shadow on your house or adjacent rooms, causing shade. A crown lift will help bring more light in and give a better definition to the tree whilst still keeping the benefits the tree brings.
A crown lift can be done on most types of tree. By removing the lower branches, you may be amazed at what a difference it makes inside the house and improve the tree’s shape.
It’s always best to check the time of year to undertake tree pruning. As a rule of thumb, you want to prune *most trees during the winter when they are dormant. This also allows you to assess their branch structure easily as the leaves will have fallen.
With Evergreens, winter is a good time as the sap won’t have risen yet, so weeping and bleeding can be kept to a minimum. (*Certain trees require summer pruning such as Birch or Prunus to save bleeding or winter borne diseases such as Silverleaf).
New gardeners seem to be apprehensive about pruning and removing parts of trees. Maybe due to the fact that without horticultural knowledge of botany, it can seem counterproductive. However, pruning is actually one of the best ways to encourage growth in a plant. So rather than thinking of what you may lose, we need to start thinking about pruning as something you do to gain!
How to Crown Lift a Tree
Before we start tree pruning, you’re going to need a sharp saw and a pair of secateurs. Make sure that both are clean, free from rust and in good working order. You may also need a pair of loppers for branches that are too thin to saw but too thick for secateurs.
It goes without saying that wearing gloves and some proper work shoes is essential. If in doubt, have a ‘garden helper’ hold branches for you and take care when handling sharp tools. Also, having a dog as a watchman is not essential but can make the process more fun!
Step 1 – Assess the tree
The first step is to assess the tree and see how far up the tree trunk you need to take the crown lift. Is it just the bottom branches or a few layers that need removing? In my example of this pine tree, I want to clear the bottom 3 – 4 branches so I can walk under to mow the lawn. I’ve also worked out this will allow enough light into the rooms looking onto the garden.
Step 2 – Remove the bottom branches
Start by removing the bottom branches first. You’re going to want to use a wood saw for most branches, and the aim is to make clean, damage-free cuts.
Top Tip: Always cut the underside of the branch first up to 1/3 of the way through. Then flip the saw around and cut from the top. This prevents the weight of the branch ripping away from the tree, causing damage.
Step 3 – Ensure your cuts are clean
Make sure your cuts are clean and slightly angled so water can runoff. Also, make sure you leave a small gap of a 5mm before the main trunk. This is to stop any dieback or damage affecting the main trunk. This means that the wounds can dry up and heal correctly. It also stops you from inadvertently damaging the main tree is you slip with the saw.
Step 4 – Reduce larger branches first
If you’re cutting larger heavy branches, then make the cuts in stages. Do this by starting your cuts at the very tip of larger branches and take off a third, then a third again, until you’re closer to the main tree trunk. By reducing the length before making the final cut, you’re reducing the stress and weight of the branch. This helps reduce tearing or damage.
Step 5 – Stand back to assess the shape
Stand back and assess the progress making sure you’re keeping the trees shape balanced. I find taking one of each side and alternating helps this. If not, you can end up with a wonky tree!
Step 6 – Enjoy your work!
Once you’re at the right level, then your crown lift is complete. The trimmings can then be dried to use as firewood or recycled. You can also use a chipper to shred the branches to make woodchips for garden paths or mulches. So there’s zero waste!
Pruning Trees for Shape
If you think how long it takes most trees to reach a mature size, between 10-30 years on average for most trees. To simply cut them down leaves you with not only space you will need to fill, but all that effort has gone to waste. Wildlife relies on trees for shelter and food. Trees roots anchor the ground and help slow down water movement, reducing the risk of flooding.
Contrary to other urban myths, most tree roots are not going to uproot your house if they’re planted at a sensible distance away. However, in most of the examples, it usually user error in planting really vigorous trees within a foot or so of houses foundations or walls where subsidence can occur as the tree sucks the moisture out of the surrounding soil, causing movement.
No matter how much gardening experience you have, we all have a shared duty to look after our environments. So I hope that by reading this, you will give crown lifting a go before calling in a tree surgeon to remove a tree. You will save yourself a fortune and be giving mother nature a much needed helping hand.
Late winter or early spring is the best time to prune most shrubs and trees—but not all! See our list of which trees and shrubs to prune, and get some general pruning tips for the season.
Why Prune In Late Winter Or Early Spring?
In temperate regions, most plants go dormant during the winter. This is the time of year when they’ve halted active growth and have hunkered down for the cold weather. Because of this dormancy, late winter and early spring are typically the best times to make any adjustments to the shapes of many trees and shrubs.
You want to prune hard at the end of winter or very early spring BEFORE any new growth starts. This allows the plant to put its energy towards producing new, healthy growth when the warmer temperatures of spring roll around.
Practically speaking, it’s also a lot easier to see the true shape of deciduous plants in the winter since their foliage is gone.
Not all trees and shrubs should be pruned in the winter or early spring, however. Generally speaking, shrubs and trees that bloom on new growth should be pruned in the winter and early spring, while those that bloom on old growth should be pruned in late spring or summer (i.e., after their flowers fade).
General Cold-weather Pruning Tips
- Prune on a mild, dry day. Not only is this more pleasant for you, but the gardener—it also helps to prevent the spreading of waterborne plant diseases or damage from cold temperatures.
- Never prune too early in the winter, as incisions can dry out if the temperature drops well below freezing.
- When pruning, first prune out dead and diseased branches, especially those caused by the winter’s snow and ice.
- Unwanted lower branches on all evergreen shrubs and trees should also be removed in late winter.
- Remove overgrown and smaller branches to increase light and air at the crown of the tree.
- In general, your goal is to keep the branches that develop or maintain the tree’s structure.
- Cut branches at the node, the point at which one branch or twig attaches to another.
When To Prune Flowering Shrubs
Got flowering shrubs? When to prune a shrub depends mostly on when it blooms and whether it flowers on growth produced in the same or previous years.
- In winter and early spring, prune shrubs that form their flower buds on “new” wood (i.e., growth that will occur in the coming spring). Examples include abelia, beautyberry, butterfly bush, summer- or fall-blooming clematis, smooth hydrangeas, panicle hydrangeas, potentilla, roses, rose of Sharon, dogwoods, Japanese spirea, St. Johnswort, and summersweet.
- Wait until late spring or early summer (after flowers fade) to prune shrubs that bloom on “old” wood (i.e., growth from the previous year). Examples are azalea, beauty bush, bridal wreath spirea, spring-blooming clematis, cotoneaster, deutzia, enkianthus, flowering almond, forsythia, mophead hydrangeas, lilacs, mock orange, mountain laurel, ninebark, oakleaf hydrangea, Pieris, rhododendron, viburnum, Virginia sweetspire, weigela, wisteria, and witch hazel. If you cut them too early, you’ll cut off the buds that would’ve opened this spring! The best time to prune spring-blooming shrubs is right after the spring blooms fade.
When To Prune Trees And Evergreens
- Prune evergreen shrubs (yew, holly, and boxwoods) and evergreen trees (spruce, fir) in late winter or early spring when they are still dormant and before new growth begins. Pines are pruned in early June to early July.
- Prune shade trees, such as oak, sweetgum, maple, katsura and hornbeam in late winter or early spring.
- Wait to prune spring-flowering trees, such as dogwood, redbud, cherry, pear, and magnolia, until after they flower.
Sometimes, it’s hard to tell if a tree has dead branches higher up unless you climb it. For this reason, it may be prudent to hire a tree trimmer to prune any dead trees once every 3 years. To prune shorter trees yourself, look into tree pruners with long-reach poles so that you can keep your own feet safely on the ground.
How Long Does It Take For A Tree To Regrow Branches?
When you cut back branches on a tree, you’d expect branches to start growing back right away. If you do not see any regrowth on your tree, though, you may start to get worried. How long does it take for branches to grow back on a tree? It very much depends on how the tree has been cut back in the first place. Here’s what you should expect from your tree when it starts to grow back.
Where You Cut Is Important
If you’ve cut your tree back yourself, then you may have cut into trunk wood rather than branch wood. If this is the case, this will be why it’s taking longer for your tree to grow back. Also, damage to the trunk can cause issues with new wood growth on your tree, so if you’ve cut into it, you may not be seeing new branches come back.
This is why it’s usually a good idea to bring in a tree service company to help you cut back your branches. Their staff is usually trained to know where to cut a tree, avoid damage and helping your tree grow back quicker.
Avoid Topping Your Trees
If you’re not seeing regrowth on your tree, it could be that it’s been ‘topped’. ‘Topping’ is a process where the tree’s main branches are cut back to the trunk.
Many homeowners do this because they feel they’re stopping branches from falling off, especially during storms. They think that the limbs will grow back as they were before, so all they’re doing is keeping the branches short.
In fact, if you top your tree, you’re actually damaging it. This is because the main branches will grow back in much weaker than they were before. This means if another storm comes by, the branches are even more likely to come down.
As well as this, you’ll be waiting even longer for new buds to form and branches to grow back. It’s not a good look when the rest of the garden is in bloom, but the tree is still bare.
Branches Don’t Actually Grow Back
Is this true? If you cut a branch off, will it not come back? It very much depends on how you’re pruning your tree.
It is true that once a branch has been cut off, it won’t technically grow back. That’s because the cut site of the branch isn’t designed to be able to grow back. Instead, what should happen is that latent buds should be present on the tree. If they’re not damaged and they’re near the cut site, then they will grow instead. That means the cut branch won’t come back, but a new branch may take its place.
That’s why you have to be careful when cutting branches on your tree. Topping may stop new buds sprouting, and if you damage them, then they may never sprout. Bringing in an expert from a tree service will help you keep your tree in good condition and help new branches grow.