How to Prune Shellbark Hickory


The shellbark hickory is a deciduous tree, which is native to the Midwestern United States. It is also found in the Eastern, Southern and Great Plains states. Shellbark hickory prefers moist, rich soil, and grows well in bottomlands and along flood plains. A mature tree can reach a height of 80 feet and a crown width of 40 feet. When the tree is young its bark is similar to the shagbark hickory tree. However, the bark does not grow into the peeling bark, which is characteristic of the shagbark hickory. This striking tree is a member of the walnut family and squirrels are extremely fond of the nuts that the shellbark hickory tree produces. The homeowner may find that the debris from their foraging and eating activity can become a nuisance. This deciduous tree will require pruning to remove any diseased or damaged limbs or branches, to maintain its size (width) in your landscape design and possibly for safety reasons (too close to a building or roof). The pruning tools that you use will be determined by the size of the limb or branch, and its location.

Step 1

Remove any damaged or diseased branch or limb as soon as possible. Make a clean cut at the breaking point so that proper healing will take place. This can be done at any time of the year due to necessity.

Step 2

Locate the branch collar (this is on the underside of the branch where it connects to the trunk) and the branch bark ridge (this is on the top side of the branch where it connects to the trunk). Make a clean cut and do not leave a stub. You do not want to damage the branch collar or the branch bark ridge. This procedure is used to maintain size/shape and to remove branches that cause a safety hazard. This should be done during early spring or late fall.

Step 3

Visually inspect your mature tree for deadwood and cross over branches. Dead wood and cross over branches should be removed. More than likely this will need to be done by a professional due to the height of the tree. A skilled and certified arborist knows what branches should be cut to maintain the integrity and appearance of the tree.

Tips and Warnings

  • Do not attempt to prune a tree that is close to electrical wires; this should be done by the electric company. Also, do not attempt to remove high branches, as this can be dangerous. Call a professional.

Things You'll Need

  • Hand pruning shears
  • Lopping shears
  • Pole pruner
  • Tree saw


  • Division of Forestry
  • United States Department of Agriculture
Keywords: shellbark hickory pruning, prune dead branches remove, cut back limb size shape

About this Author

Paula M. Ezop’s inspirational column "Following the Spiritual Soul" appeared in "Oconee Today," a Scripps Howard publication. She has published her first book, "SPIRITUALITY for Mommies," and her children's chapter book, "The Adventures of Penelope Star," will be published by Wiggles Press. Ezop has a Bachelor of Arts degree from Northeastern Illinois University and has been writing for 10 years.