How to Prune to Maintain a Small Ornamental Tree Size


Ornamental trees such as crab apples, magnolias and lilacs can beautify your landscaping. Some yards allow for these trees to grow larger, but ornamental trees grown in crowded yards or flower gardens may be best maintained to a small size and shape. While hedges can be sheared for shape and size, this is not the best approach for your small ornamental trees. To keep your small ornamental trees small, healthy and well-shaped, prune them annually. Likewise, know the best pruning time for your tree. Some ornamental trees are best pruned before spring growth begins, while other need to wait until after they have flowered to be pruned.

Step 1

Select a branch that is no longer conforming with the desired size and shape of your small ornamental tree.

Step 2

Cut that branch using sharp, oiled pruning shears. Cut at an angle just before that branch meets a lateral branch or lateral bud. The angle should be parallel to the angle of the lateral branch. To remove the entire limb make an angled cut just past the branch collar (the small lip where the branch meets the main trunk) at the base of the branch.

Step 3

Select another branch and repeat this process.

Step 4

Remove suckers that grow up from the roots by digging them out. Use your pruning shears to remove upright succulent shoots as soon as they appear. These shoots grow on the main branches of some species of ornamental trees, affecting the shape and health of the tree.

Tips and Warnings

  • Removing branches rather than simply trimming the edges of them will allow light to reach the inner branches and keep the entire tree healthy and attractive. If you merely shear the outer tips of your ornamental tree to maintain its size and shape, this will cause those sheared branches to become bushy, developing a lot of lateral branches which will block light from reaching the inner structure of your tree. This will result in a spindly center to your tree.

Things You'll Need

  • Pruning shears
  • Hand shovel


  • University of Georgia: Pruning Ornamental Plants in the Landscape
  • University of Minnesota: Pruning Trees and Shrubs
  • Treecology, Inc.: Arboriculture
Keywords: small ornamental trees, pruning for shape, pruning for size, small tree pruning

About this Author

Em Connell McCarty has been writing for 27 years. She studied writing at the University of Iowa and at Hollins University in Virginia. She writes fiction, creative non-fiction and essays. McCarty's work has been published in Hip Mama magazine.