Because each cut has the potential to change the growth of a tree, no branch should be removed without first establishing clearly defined objectives.  Several pruning methods can be used to meet the desired objectives.

Removing the correct stems and branches to accomplish specific goals is as important as making correct pruning cuts.  If the wrong branches, or too many branches removed, even if proper pruning cuts are used, nothing of merit has been accomplished.

Pruning goals must consider tree growth and development and the effects on the tree over the long term.

Objectives include:

  • Reducing the potential for tree or branch failure
  • Providing clearance
  • Reducing shade and wind resistance
  • Maintaining health
  • Influencing flower or fruit production
  • Improving a review
  • Improving aesthetics


Heading cuts are used on the trunk and/or large-diameter branches of trees to reduce height or spread.  This substandard practice, called heading or topping, is not recommended because it damages trees permanently.  Heading large-diameter branches causes many problems, including massive decay in many species and many dead branch stubs (Gilman and Know, 2004)


Here are some major problems directly related to heading (topping) trees in the landscape:

  • Decay and cracks in the cut stubs
  • Depletion of energy reserves and a reduction in energy storage capacity
  • Destruction of tree architecture and structure
  • Vigorous sprouting with weak attachment
  • Unnatural and unappealing appearance to many people
  • In the long term, more cost than structural pruning or thinning
  • Possible damage to trunk and branches from sudden sun exposure
  • Inhibition of root growth
  • Increased susceptibility to boring insects, canker, and root diseases
  • Possible mortality
  • Susceptibility to future storm damage
  • Even though crown density is initial reduced, it is increases quickly after pruning


“If a tree needs regular pruning to keep it small, perhaps the wrong species was selected for the site” (An Illustrated guide to pruning third addiction, Edward F. Gilman)