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How to Prune Butternut Trees

By Kelly Shetsky ; Updated September 21, 2017

Butternut trees, or juglans cinerea, is a nut tree that slowly grows to a height of 40 to 60 feet. It has a furrowed bark and makes clusters of sweet nuts that are used in baking. When mature, butternut trees have a spread of about 35 to 50 feet. They bloom in May to June and do well in most types of soil. Prune the trees when they are young to produce a strong structure. As they mature, the purpose of pruning is to maintain the tree structure, health, form and appearance.

Look at the form of a butternut tree, which is considered spherical. This means it has many lateral branches that may compete for dominance. You need to take this into account because if you try to make the tree into an unnatural form, you'll have to do continual maintenance.

Use a hand pruner to cut small, thin branches. Lopping shears or small pruning saws can be used for slightly larger branches with bigger cutting surfaces and greater leverage. If you're dealing with even larger branches--about 6 inches in thickness--use a pruning saw. Chain saws will work on those thicker than 8 inches.

Plan to make cuts at the node, which is where one twig or branch meets another. Each spring, growth will start with buds and twigs growing until there is a new node.

Thin the crown to increase the amount of light and air that gets to the tree. Light penetration is necessary for optimal development while air movement minimizes disease infestation. During this process, you will develop and maintain the tree's form and structure.

Keep all butternut tree branches that are attached with strong U-shaped joints. Remove those branches with narrow, V-shaped connections because they are weaker and are likely already cracked.

Achieve crown raising by removing all the branches that are facing downward at the bottom of the tree. This will provide clearance for pedestrians, traffic and lines of site. The tree will also have a neater appearance.


Things You Will Need

  • Goggles
  • Gloves
  • Ladder
  • Hand pruner
  • Small pruning saw
  • Lopping shears
  • Chain saw


  • Wear goggles and gloves for safety when pruning butternut trees.


  • Do not remove more than one-quarter of the crown at a time, or you may cause stress and excessive production of epicormic sprouts.

About the Author


Based in New York State, Kelly Shetsky started writing in 1999. She is a broadcast journalist-turned Director of Marketing and Public Relations and has experience researching, writing, producing and reporting. She writes for several websites, specializing in gardening, medical, health and fitness, entertainment and travel. Shetsky has a Bachelor of Arts in communications from Marist College.