Landscape design Pruning

Don’t Hesitate to Remove Lower Tree Branches

When you first plant a tree, it’s often a gangly little thing: a thin trunk, lots of little branches from its middle to the top and not all that many leaves. You’ll want to keep it as is for maximum effect.

Then, it starts to grow. The next thing you know, it’s taller than your house and densely covered in branches and leaves, often to the point where you really can’t see its structure when it’s in leaf. And the garden underneath, that one that used to receive full sun, is now completely shaded out. Plus the lower branches are stretching out over your lawn, shading it as well, and making mowing difficult. They may be blocking a path or cutting off a once beautiful view. That may not have been what you bargained for.

This will seem obvious to some gardeners, but maybe not others, so … remember that a tree’s branches always remain at the same height from the ground; they do not rise as the tree grows.

Limbing Up

But you don’t have to let lower branches interfere with your gardening or the use of your lot. As trees grow in height, you can selectively remove the lower branches, letting light back in and making circulation under the tree easier. Called limbing up or raising the crown, this does no harm to the tree and, in fact, replicates what happens in a forested area in the wild. 


You can limb up most trees in any season (always check with a local arborist for any exceptions), removing up to 20% of the tree’s foliage in a given year. If it has a lot of lower branches, you might therefore want to limb up over two years or even three. Ideally, in the case of a tall tree, you want eventually to clear branches from the lower 7 feet or so (2 m) so you (and guests) can move around under the tree with danger of anyone bumping their head on a branch. Esthetically speaking, too, you’ll probably want to free about 1/3 of the lower trunk, leaving the upper 2/3s intact. 

Limbing up can free up a lot of garden space you never knew you had! Photo:

And have you ever seen beautiful gardens in a forest of mature trees? Take a look! You’ll almost always see that the trees were limbed up to a considerable height to allow more light in. Low branches are just not conducive to gardening.

Do It Yourself or Hire an Arborist

You can do the pruning yourself if the branches are near enough to the ground for you to be able to reach them. (Obviously, any time you remove a branch higher than your head, you should be wearing a safety helmet.) For out-of-reach or oversized branches, it’s better to have a certified arborist do the job. Avoid fly-by-night tree trimmers who often damage trees rather than helping them.

So, get your garden back: limb up and discover all the beautiful space you could be landscaping!

Larry Hodgson is one of Canada’s best-known garden communicators. He has notably been editor-in-chief of HousePlant Magazine, Fleurs, Plantes et Jardins, À Fleur de Pot and Houseplant Forum magazines and is currently the garden correspondent for Le Soleil and radio garden commentator for CKIA-FM Radio. He has written for many garden publications in both the United States and Canada, including Canadian Gardening, Harrowsmith, Horticulture, Fine Gardening and Organic Gardening. He also speaks frequently to horticultural groups throughout Canada and the U.S. His book credits include The Garden Lover’s Guide to Canada, Complete Guide to Houseplants, Making the Most of Shade, Perennials for Every Purpose, Annuals for Every Purpose, and Houseplants for Dummies, as well as nearly 60 other titles in English and French. He is a past president of the Garden Writers Association (now Garden Communicators International) and the winner of the prestigious 2006 Garden Media Promoter Award offered by the Perennial Plant Association. He resides in Quebec City, Quebec, Canada.

24 comments on “Don’t Hesitate to Remove Lower Tree Branches

  1. Mary Johnson

    I am surprised you said it’s OK to limb up any tree at anytime. What about the ruling of definitely not cutting Oak Trees in summer for fear of Oak wilt which is a serious disease and may even end up killing your beautiful Oak trees? Also Elm tree cutting in summer invites a different serious disease as well, does it not??? Trimming up I understand but the lower branches being cut completely off at the tree trunk really concerns me and contradicts everything I’ve been educating myself about. Possibly you only meant limbing up to mean snipping off partial ends of very long low hanging branches but I don’t think that’s what you mentioned and explained as limboing up! I’m totally confused now. Please respond if and when you can. Thanks very much!!

    • Thank for these precisions.

      I was, of course, generalizing. One can scarcely do otherwise when writing texts about gardening that are read all over the world. You can limb up most trees in most climates in any season. But there are going to be exceptions everywhere. I’m going to return to the text and add a (vague) note about that. I can’t be specific, because, for example, oak wilt is limited to a relatively small area on the planet. Most people certainly could limb up oaks in spring, summer, fall or winter. Same with elms, although it’s a somewhat broader problem, although there are many elms that are not subject to elm beetles and you could limb up in summer. And I could fill pages with other exceptions!

      I will immediately go back and make the change.

  2. Most trees prefer to be pruned while dormant in winter. None should be pruned while they are at their most vascularly active phase in early spring, although limbs sometimes break and need to be dressed at that time. Maples and birches will bleed profusely for a long time if pruned too late in winter or in spring! Pines are likely to bleed if pruned in the warm part of summer. A few spring blooming trees are typically pruned in summer, just so that the lower limbs get to bloom one last time before getting removed, but technically, winter is still the best time. (I pruned a few flowering cherries and dogwoods in summer, after their spring growth matured. They still get the remainder of summer to produce a bit of new growth to bloom the following year.) Even palms (if considered to be trees) have certain seasons in which they should not be groomed, because pink rot and other pathogens are more active during humid weather. There are more exceptions than accurracies to the generalization that “You can limb up most trees in most climates in any season.” Because various trees are on various schedules, arborists can plan their work accordingly.
    When pruning young trees, unwanted lower limbs that have potential to become prominent components of the developing canopy should of course be removed. However, for some trees, some of the smaller twiggy ‘stubble’ that will not interfere with the development of the canopy can remain to promote caliper growth (for a heftier trunk while the tree is young). Such stubble can be removed as the associated trunk expands sufficiently to support the weight and leverage exerted onto it by the canopy above, as it is shaded out, or if it tries to grow too aggressively and compete with the rest of the canopy. It is best to eliminate stubble before it gets big enough to leave significant ‘shiners’ (circular wounds left where limbs were pruned away).

  3. To have an abundance of greenery you should know how to nurture and care for every single one of them. If you’re hesitant in doing your own tree trimming, we offer highly trained arborist that could help you achieve your dream garden. Thank you Laidback Gardener for letting your audience understand that it’s okay to remove the lower tree branches.

  4. There is never a bad time to remove dead, damaged, or diseased branches. But most trees benefit from pruning in mid to late winter. Pruning during dormancy encourages new growth as soon as the weather begins to warm. I recommend to help you beautify your area like they did mine.

  5. I’m more of a do it yourself type but if it comes to trees, you better hire a professional. I learned the hard way by doing it myself. The tree almost fell on me. Try , they were the ones I called.

    • You’re so right… and might I add that any gardening job that requires you climb a ladder with something sharp in your hands is not something you should do on your own!

  6. What an insightful article you wrote here! Now, I’ll have some knowledge on what to do with my trees at home, haha! I’ll attempt to do with with my utmost best in order to save money. However if you don’t have a lot of free time, you can check out my uncle’s work.

  7. Out-of-control trees are not just unsafe, they can become eyesores. DIY tree pruning and hedge trimming might seem like a breeze, but results can differ drastically from your vision. A trained arborist knows how to manicure different trees in beautiful ways that will add curb appeal to your yard or business.

  8. Pruning a tree can influence in what way the tree grows. With proper pruning, a tree can be made to grow into a certain configuration of limbs and branches that is more ideal for the structural integrity of the tree. Maintaining the tree’s structure helps to mitigate the risk of broken limbs and falling branches.

  9. Trees that aren’t regularly trimmed can grow to look unbalanced and misshapen. Branches may sprout off in strange directions and this uneven growth can make your trees appear bedraggled. Trimming is like a much-needed haircut, one that enhances the tree’s natural shape. Thinning out limbs and cutting back unwieldy branches is beneficial because it improves the tree’s appearance. Trimming is especially important for those trees you planted to boost the appeal of a property.

  10. Property safety is another important reason regular tree trimming is necessary.

    Trees with dead, diseased or infested branches pose a significant risk. In heavy winds or a severe storm, the limbs can fall easily and damage your property and your home — and someone could get badly injured. The presence of hazardous branches is the most critical reason to get your trees trimmed periodically.

    For expert trimming in Fontana area, reach out to Fontana Tree Service Pros.

  11. It is not bad to remove the lower tree branches because it can help your trees grow beautifully. If you can do it on your own then that’s good but if ever you cannot do it, hire an arborist so you can be safe. An arborist is a great help in this matter. I personally contact because they provide an excellent performance.

  12. Arborist can be a great help especially if you do not want to prune your trees. When you are not equipped well and do not know more about tree pruning, then I can suggest that you ask an arborist. They are a great help for this situation. I personally recommend Charleston West Virginia because they can help you in any tree matters. Just contact them!

  13. Great blog! Very informative one! If you don’t have time or you do not have enough equipment to remove your tree, you may want to consider hiring a professional tree care company to handle these tasks on your behalf.

    Tree Service Charleston, West Virginia

  14. Great blog! Very informative one! If you don’t have time or you do not have enough equipment to remove your tree, you may want to consider hiring a professional tree care company to handle these tasks on your behalf.

    Tree Care Company

  15. This is an informative blog! Removing your lower tree branch can help your trees grow beautifully. So don’t step back when removing lower tree branches
    If ever you are looking for tree service company that can trim or prune your trees, then I got your back! The best tree service company around Decatur, IL, is already here. Don’t hesitate to contact us.

  16. Tree removal is a more technical and hazardous job than most people realize. It requires attention to detail, no cut corners, and an extensive amount of manpower, proper equipment, and training.

  17. Properly pruned tree branches form a callus where the removed branch once was. This callus is essential to the health of the tree. Most tree branches that are cut back to the trunk or a main branch will require three cuts to prevent damage to the bark. The first two cuts remove the weight from the tree branch, and the final cut is designed for the best callus growth. The author is right! Don’t hesitate to remove tree branches,

  18. Tree pruning and complete tree removal are vital services that a tree service company can perform. Chances are that there’s a need to cut away dead or overgrown stems or branches, which is crucial to ensure the fruitfulness and growth of your trees. Also, ensure the safe removal of the impacted trees to ensure the safety of the surroundings. Don’t be scared to remove a piece of the tree.

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