Removing the lower branches of some trees can improve their appearance – a technique known as crown lifting.
Early in the life of a tree these sideshoots are crucial for its health as their foliage produces sugars to help thicken up the main stem or trunk. If removed too early, the trunk can remain weak, unable to support the weight of the developing crown above.
A standard specimen tree has been trained before you buy it, but if you buy a ‘feathered maiden’ (a tree of about three years old, with sideshoots or ‘feathers’, you can crown lift the tree once it has made a couple more years’ growth. Find out more about tree sizes to buy.
Sideshoot development and pruning to form a trunk should be considered a two-stage process. At the end of the first season of growth, the shoots can be cut back to 2-3 buds from the base to leave a stub. These buds will then produce more shoots in the second year, and it is this growth that will help thicken the trunk.
At the end of that growing season, the entire sideshoot can be cut back to the main trunk. The process then continues up the tree as it grows taller, until the trunk is the desired height.
Follow these easy steps to crown lift a tree, below.
You Will Need
- Long-handled loppers
Assess the height to which you want to clear the single or multi-stem main trunk of branches. Ideally you should remove these lower branches when they are 2-3 years old to allow space under the crown of the tree for shrubs and other border plants – just above head height is convenient for walking under.
On young trees use secateurs to thin out a third of one-year-old side-shoots, cutting close to the main trunk but not damaging the ridge at the base of the branch or – in the case of this birch – the thin, decorative bark of the tree.
Cut back remaining younger side-shoots to 2-3 buds from the base of the current growth to just above a bud. These branch stubs will feed and thicken the trunk, and can be cut back flush with the main trunk this time next year.
In older trees, use loppers to prune back the side branches on the trunk, taking care to position the thinner of the loppers’ blades flat against the trunk and not to cut into the slightly raised ridge at the base of the branches.
Having removed the lower branches, the cuts will have time to dry and start to heal before the onset of the cold winter weather. The small wounds will continue to heal over the next year to become less noticeable on the main trunk.
Where to cut
When finally removing a sideshoot, it’s important not to cut back into the ridge that is formed where it joins the main trunk. This area is essential for producing a ring of ‘callus’ that develops to cover the cut, thus keeping out unwelcome diseases.
Trees to crown lift
- Acer davidii, Acer griseum and other medium sized species (but not Japanese maples)
- Callery pear (Pyrus calleryana ‘Chanticleer’)
- Cherry laurel
- Crab apple
- Japanese cherry