Pruning Young Trees
NOTE: Please do not prune street trees in Palo Alto as the City ordinance prohibits residents from pruning street trees. Also note that the guidelines below apply to most trees; however, exceptions may include fruit trees, multi-stemmed trees, and palms.
Five Steps to Young Tree Pruning
- Remove dead, dying, damaged, diseased branches.
- Select and establish the central leader.
- Select the lowest permanent branch (LPB) based on tree location/purpose.
- Select and establish scaffold branches.
- Select temporary branches below the LPB and remove or head back others.
Watch Larry Costello’s video for homeowners:
Young Tree Pruning: An Illustration
Take a look at Trees A and B below.
Tree A: Tree B:
Compare the two trees:
Cost: Which tree is more likely to become costly to maintain? A or B?
Safety: Which tree is more likely to become a safety hazard? A or B?
Longevity: Which tree is more likely to live a shorter life? A or B?
The correct answer is Tree B: it will be more costly to maintain, more of a safety hazard, and will likely have a shorter life.
What’s the difference between happy Tree A and unhappy Tree B? Tree A was pruned at a young age to have a central leader (central trunk), while Tree B was not.
A tree without a central leader is less structurally sound and more likely to need costly and unsightly pruning as it matures, as in Figure 1 below. Trees lacking a strong structure are also vulnerable to serious limb breakages during a storm, as in Figure 2 below.
Figure 1: Mature tree with unsightly cuts:
Without proper pruning as a young tree, a mature tree may require unsightly and costly cuts.
Establishing good structure early in this tree’s life would have saved time, effort, maintenance costs — and prevented an eyesore!
Figure 2: Mature tree with storm damage:
As renowned arboriculturalist Larry Costello, PhD, said repeatedly in his Canopy young tree pruning workshop for landscape professionals, “What a waste!”
To prevent these and other problems, learn the five-step method used by Dr. Costello, Canopy, and others to properly prune young trees. (See video above.)