How to Prune Narrowleaf Cottonwood


The narrowleaf cottonwood grows from southern Alberta to Arizona, Oregon and California. Used for soil stabilization along stream banks, narrowleaf cottonwood also provides food and shelter for birds and small mammals; beavers use it to build and maintain their dams. Narrowleaf cottonwood can reach up to 65 feet tall and can be pruned to maintain its shape.

Step 1

Prune narrowleaf cottonwood in the fall after most of the leaves have fallen. This will ensure hardy growth the following season.

Step 2

Cut back the top part of the tree with pruning shears. Prune to the terminal bud, which is the main section of growth.

Step 3

Cut back lateral branches that are warped or gnarled. The goal is to produce one strong stem leader.

Step 4

Prune broken, pest-infested or diseased branches by cutting off the entire branch.

Step 5

Prune to one central shoot and remove all thin branches on narrowleaf cottonwood saplings. This will free up needed nutrients for the rest of the tree.

Step 6

Remove all root suckers, or shoots sprouting out of the root base.

Tips and Warnings

  • The aggressive root system of the cottonwood can invade drainage systems and use up available moisture in nearby gardens.

Things You'll Need

  • Pruning shears


  • Narrowleaf Cottonwood Plant Guide
Keywords: narrowleaf cottonwood, pruning trees, cutting back cottonwoods

About this Author

Callie Barber has been writing professionally since 2002. Barber's love for design and writing inspired her to create Design Your Revolution, a blog that shares creative and affordable ways to decorate indoor and outdoor living environments. Her articles have appeared on and Barber holds a Bachelors of Arts in international studies from the University of North Carolina.