Tree pruning: the natural look

Professional tree pruning for the present …

We want to help you live in harmony with your trees. Perhaps you’d like your trees pruned to give you more light, more space, improved safety, not quite so many leaves falling on the lawn, a neater look, a better view.

… and for the future

Every tree is different, even within the same species. We are expert in working with your particular tree to achieve your goals while leaving it in a natural shape that should require little to no maintenance for several years. This is achieved by following two rules of thumb which are applicable to the majority of species.

At least one third diameter …

First, when shortening or ‘reducing’ a branch it should be pruned back to a side branch whose diameter is at least one third the diameter of the branch being pruned. This helps ensure that the pruned branches are left with enough photosynthesising capacity to support themselves, so that they should neither react by producing lots of weakly attached, fast growing shoots, nor by dying.

… up to one third volume

Secondly, for any given pruning session no more that about a third of the branching, leaf-bearing portion of the tree (the crown) should be removed at any one time. This helps avoid killing the tree or shocking it into producing unsightly regrowth.

Following these two rules, together with applying the correct method for and choosing the correct placement of the pruning cuts themselves, should leave you with a healthy, natural looking tree.

There are several types of pruning that can be applied to the crown, as described below.

Crown lift

This is removing some of the lowest branches, and can be a relatively easy and effective way to improve head clearance, make more space and light for the shrubs below, or extend your view to the bottom of the garden. It is important not to raise the crown too much or its stability may be compromised.

Crown clean

Removing dead wood, epicormic shoots, ivy, and crossing, dangerous or dying branches can be a relatively inexpensive way to improve the look of your tree and increase the amount of light penetration while also improving its long term health prospects. Here is an American oak before and after we cleaned the trunk of epicormic shoots:

American oak before and after crown clean

Crown thin

If you want to go beyond a crown clean, this approach means keeping the overall natural shape and size of the tree, while removing up to one third of its leaf bearing branches. The result of this type of tree pruning is more light and air penetration which can improve the tree’s health, together with lighter branches and reduced wind resistance and therefore decreased likelihood of structural failure.

Crown reduction

This reduces the overall size of a tree, for example for clearance from telephone lines, windows and gutters, or perhaps it’s just got too big and blocks too much light for your or your neighbours’ liking. We take a particularly sensitive approach to this work, reducing the crown by taking out the longer branches and cutting limbs back to lateral branches capable of sustaining the remainder, leaving you with a tree that will look natural immediately afterwards and in the future. Here is an apple tree before and after we reduced and thinned out its crown:

Apple tree before and after reduction
Apple tree before and after reduction

“Luke and his team did a fabulous job with our very over-crowded garden. The fruit trees were very overgrown and out of control and one was even dying. Luke was extremely good at listening to what we wanted and his approach of ‘sensitive reduction’ worked brilliantly: our garden looks much bigger, the trees are super healthy and our house is much lighter. Wouldn’t hesitate to recommend him to anyone. Great job Luke!” Emma.


This is the most severe form of crown reduction and is only appropriate for a few species. It should only be done after careful consideration. It means removing all leaf bearing branches to leave only stumps, followed by annual or periodic removal of the resulting sprouts to restrict the size of large-growing trees.

Too often it is done as “topping” or “lopping” on the wrong species of tree instead of a more sensitive reduction, leaving an unsightly skeleton that either dies or reacts by producing regrowth for a few years and then dies because the original pruning wounds were too big to heal properly so that the tree rots. Please don’t let this happen to your tree.

If you feel your tree is too big for its location, consider a crown lift, thin, or reduction, or removing it altogether and replacing it with a more suitable species.

Restorative pruning: back to previous reduction points

If a tree has been pollarded or topped, the crown can be restored by thinning out the regrowth to improve structure and appearance. Here are before and after shots of a previously pollarded lime tree that we worked on for a day:

Lime tree before and after 'back to previous' reduction
Lime tree before and after ‘back to previous’ reduction

Renovative pruning

This particularly applies to overgrown, mature apple and pear trees, which can be attractive and productive once more with the right kind of pruning, sometimes over a few years. See our post on pruning apple and pear trees and the Royal Horticultural Society for more information on this.

Contact us for more information about tree pruning

For more information about our tree pruning services, please don’t hesitate to contact us today.