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How-To: The Basics of Structural Pruning

To some, the act of pruning may seem counterintuitive. But cutting a tree strategically can reduce structural weaknesses and promote healthy growth, thus increasing its lifespan. Structural pruning can help trees of all ages and is necessary throughout their life.

Here, we’ll cover the basics of structural pruning.


Identify the Dominant Leader

The goal of structural pruning to create one dominant leader structure that has a diameter at least twice the size of subordinate branches. From root to tip, identify the leader with the largest diameter and structural soundness.


Identify Competing Leaders

In some trees, competing leaders are obvious and cause the tree to fall to one side. In trees that make a V-shape union at the base of the crown, dominant and competing leaders may not be as obvious.

Competing leaders may be just as tall as or taller than the dominant leader but less structurally sound. These leaders need to be subordinated.

If you are having trouble identifying dominant or competing leaders, a tree expert can easily make these distinctions for you.


Subordinate Competing Leaders

Subordinating the competing leader is done by using reduction or removal cuts to relieve the strain on the dominating leader or the union from which they both stem.

A reduction cut to a live lateral branch will cause the competing leader stem to grow slower so the unpruned leader may grow faster. These cuts may not entirely remove the weakness from the dominating leader or union. Thinning, reducing, and raising will likely be necessary.

Thinning: Small branches from the crown periphery are removed. The three stays the same size, it is only a trim.
Reducing: The crown gets smaller by shortening the longest branches.
Raising: Branches that encourage the formation of a weak structure from the base of the crown are completely removed.


When trees are young, structural pruning is much easier and straightforward. The more mature a tree, the more complicated their structures and weaknesses become. A tree expert can help you identify, plan and prune your tree to ensure its life is long and healthy.

Scott Dickson
Owner, Branch Mgmt.
Mar 12th, 2018
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