How to thin out a tree

How to thin out a tree

We show you how to prune a congested tree to improve its health and form.

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Crown thinning involves pruning out a small number of larger branches in the crown of a tree to allow light to filter into the canopy.

It’s also a good idea to remove up to a quarter of the thinner branches from the crown on a regular basis to allow air to circulate through the tree, reducing problems with pests and diseases.

Crown thinning involves pruning out a small number of larger branches in the crown of a tree to allow light to filter into the canopy.

It’s also a good idea to remove up to a quarter of the thinner branches from the crown on a regular basis to allow air to circulate through the tree, reducing problems with pests and diseases.

Carry out such pruning every three to six years – more frequently on younger trees. Secateurs can be used for thin, twiggy growth, while loppers and a pruning saw will be handy for anything thicker. Be sure to always cut back to a healthy bud or a strong shoot or branch.

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Get pruning with these steps on how to thin out a tree.

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You Will Need

  • Secateurs
  • Pruning saw
  • Long-handled loppers, For taller branches

Step 1

Inspect the tree thoroughly, considering which branches, if any, you need to cut out. This tree is well-formed and only needs a little pruning. Identify any dead branches for removal first and cut these out.

Inspecting a Davidia involucrata tree
Inspecting a Davidia involucrata tree

Step 2

Use a pruning saw to cut out some of the thicker, congested branches, especially those that are growing in the centre of the crown of the tree. Prune back flush to a main branch, taking care not to leave any stubs.

Using a pruning saw on thicker branches
Using a pruning saw on thicker branches

Step 3

Cut back thin, twiggy stems to the main branches and trunk using secateurs. This will tidy up and clear the tree, allowing more light through to plants growing underneath.

Cutting back thin, twiggy stems
Cutting back thin, twiggy stems

Step 4

Reduce the length of strong, young, upright growths that would compete with the main leader. Cut back by between a third and a half their length, pruning to just above a bud with secateurs or loppers.

Reducing the length of vertical branches
Reducing the length of vertical branches

Step 5

Assess the finished shape of the tree, making a last check to remove any badly placed or crossing branches. Aim to leave an open crown with well-placed branches.

Assessing the finished shape of the tree
Assessing the finished shape of the tree
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Other trees to prune like this

Crown thinning involves pruning out a small number of larger branches in the crown of a tree to allow light to filter into the canopy.

It’s also a good idea to remove up to a quarter of the thinner branches from the crown on a regular basis to allow air to circulate through the tree, reducing problems with pests and diseases.

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