How to Prune Shade Trees

Shade trees cool the landscape on a hot day. image by Drstarbuck/, FreeWine/, TheGut/, Glenmcbethlaw/


All trees create shade when mature. However, different types of trees create different degrees of shade. For example, cedar, pine, and other softwoods create dense evergreen shade and hardwoods like oak or pecan lose leaves in the winter so the sun's warming rays can reach the ground. In both cases, shade trees in the landscape will sooner or later need to be trimmed so air can circulate around them and your friends and family can enjoy cool shade in the summer. Also, pruning increases the beauty of the landscape and the health of your trees.

How to Prune Shade Trees

Step 1

Decide why you are pruning your shade tree. Is it for the health of the tree or the safety of your family? For example, are there lots of dying limbs in the canopy that need to be removed? Do you want access under the tree for lawn maintenance, sitting or pedestrian traffic?

Step 2

If crown needs to be thinned for the health of the tree, remove branches from the crown that will increase air circulation and allow more light to reach the lower limbs. Also, look for dead and dying limbs that need removing. Do not cut the central leader of the tree for any reason. Trim target branches back to a main limb or trunk. Don't cut more than 25 percent of the green wood at any one time. Crown thinning, other than to remove dead limbs, almost never needs to be done on conifers, such as pines, as they have a natural pyramidal shape.

Step 3

Cut limbs higher on the trunk if needed for access under the tree. This process is known as "crown raising." This should not be done on small trees where they will resemble a Q-tip. Young trees need the lower limbs to catch the wind and prevent damage to new roots near the surface. When cutting larger limbs, cut under the branch first next to the branch collar where the limb meets the trunk, then make the cut from above. This will prevent the limb from stripping a large part of the tree's bark away when it falls. Tying a rope to a higher limb or stationary object and then to the limb you are cutting prevents the limb from falling in an unpredictable or violent manner.

Tips and Warnings

  • Seek professional help if tree interferes with power lines and needs to be removed. Never cut tree branches that are in contact with power lines or can possibly contact power lines during the pruning process. Never "top" a tree that grows in a pyramidal form with a strong central leader. It will ruin the overall shape of the tree and the tree will never recover.

Things You'll Need

  • Chainsaw or pruning tool
  • Safety glasses
  • Work gloves
  • Ladder
  • Rope


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Keywords: pruning shade trees, tree trimming, prune tree

About this Author

Based in Rockdale Texas, Jim Gober has been writing garden-related articles for 25 years. His articles appear in several Texas newspapers including The Rockdale Reporter, The Lexington Leader, The Cameron Herald and The Hearne Democrat. He is a Master Gardener and Certified Texas Nursery and Landscape Professional. He holds bachelor degrees in English Writing from St. Edward's University and Finance from Lamar University.

Photo by: Drstarbuck/, FreeWine/, TheGut/, Glenmcbethlaw/