There are only a few valid reasons to prune a tree in the urban landscape:

  • Promote tree’s health
  • Reduce hazards to people
  • Train a young tree
  • Increase or decrease flowers/fruit

Pruning/training young trees

(first 3 years on the site)
Proper pruning when the tree is young will result in a mature tree that is structurally stronger, lives longer, and is less costly to maintain.


There is no need to prune a newly-planted tree unless branches have been damaged. It has been found that removing tips and buds of young trees slows root growth. If trees are left unpruned, expanding buds and new leaves help root expansion and tree establishment. Damaged branches can be removed at their point of origin, or they can be cut back to a lateral branch that will provide foliage and help establishment the first season.


A word of caution: different tree species grow at different rates. Your tree may not seem to be adding any height or spread for the first year or so. Check the irrigation design and frequency, keep the soil mulched, and avoid compacting the root zone. Resist the urge to prune a young tree simply to “force” new growth. Such growth is weakly attached, rarely looks good, and will require additional maintenance later in the tree’s life.

Conversely, overwatering and overfeeding a young tree may result in fast growth that appears to need pruning each year. Cutting back on irrigation after the first summer, particularly if the species is adapted to your climate, can slow growth and maintain a more balanced tree that requires less maintenance.

Pruning or ruining?

There is an old saying among professional arborists in connection with tree pruning, “If in doubt, don’t prune.” Nature has a unique way of allowing trees to develop natural forms that balance shoot growth with root zone health. When this natural form is destroyed, trees will react accordingly — by producing rank, weakly-attached growth, elongation of existing shoots, reduced vigor, increased susceptibility to insect or disease problems, or consumption of stored carbohydrates.

There is always a reaction. If even one limb is removed from a tree, there should be a reason for doing so. Anyone who prunes for the sake of pruning “because everyone else is” will undoubtedly cause problems that will be difficult to correct in later years.

On the other hand, careful selective pruning for any of the valid reasons listed will produce a healthy, beautiful tree that will enhance your landscape and improve the quality of life in your neighborhood for years to come.