Pruning Young Trees
Five Steps to Young Tree Pruning
NOTE: Please do not prune street trees in Palo Alto as the City ordinance prohibits residents from pruning street trees.
- 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:
Take a look at tree A and tree B:
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. Unlike tree B, tree A was pruned at a young age to have a central leader (central trunk). A tree without a central leader is more likely to need costly pruning as it matures.
Without proper pruning when a tree is young, waiting to prune a mature tree can lead to unsightly and costly cuts (see tree pictured below). Establishing good structure early in tree’s life pictured below would have saved time and effort and reduced maintenance costs.
Mature tree with unslightly cuts
Trees lacking a strong structure are also vulnerable to serious limb breakages during a storm (see tree pictured below).
Tree with storm damage
In urban areas, large limb failure poses a public safety hazard, puts property at risk, and results in the unnecessary loss of mature trees.
As renowned arboriculturalist Larry Costello, PhD, said repeatedly in his Canopy young tree pruning workshop for landscape professionals, “What a waste!”
To prevent these problems, learn the five-step method used by Dr. Costello, Canopy and others to properly prune young trees. Note: These guidelines apply to most trees with a few exceptions including fruit trees, multi-stemmed trees, and palms.