How To Fix An Over Pruned Tree: A Step-By-Step Guide


Just like everyone, I spend a considerable amount of time pruning my tree. After all, who doesn’t like a perfect and healthy tree? However, while trying to keep my tree in the best condition, there are instances when I over-prune my trees. So, I decided to find out how to fix an over-pruned tree on the internet. And here’s what I discovered.

You can fix over pruned trees yourself. You’ll need to have patience and watch the water sprouts grow until your tree reaches its former height. Cut out the rotten and damaged part, then shape it through thinning. Also, you’ll need to provide a health boost through fertilizers to your tree during the process.

However, fixing an over-pruned tree can be quite complicated and depends on the type of tree. Even more, it might be quite challenging to get the branches to grow back if they get damaged to a particular extent.

As such, it’s always best to follow proper tree pruning techniques. This way, one can reduce the risk of over-pruning and, in turn, prevent damage to that beautiful tree.

Step-By-Step Instructions on Fixing an Over Pruned Tree

Although it sounds all easy, pruning can be quite complicated in practice. You don’t get enough on it; then you have unruly branches.

Delve in too hard; then your tree has got a problem – over-pruning. And although we might intend to avoid it, it’s a common occurrence.

Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.

Abraham Lincoln

A prime example of over-pruning is cutting off all the branches of your main tree such that there’s just only the central trunk left. Over-pruning might also take a different form in tree topping. And while it spells doom for your tree, it’s not entirely unredeemable. Here’s how.

1. Fixing Your Tree After Cutting All of Its Branches

It’s not uncommon to find tree branches getting cut off in a bid to keep your tree’s shape and health. And this causes quite some issues for your trees. However, in most cases, you can salvage the situation. To do this, follow the steps below.

How to Reshape and Repair A Tree with All Its Branches Cut Off

Below are the steps one should consider before even looking into reshaping and repairing the trees in your property.

Step 1: Know Your Tree

In trying to fix trees with their branches cut off, it’s essential to know the type of tree or shrub that you have. And this is particularly essential because it dictates what kind of action you will take. For instance, some trees automatically grow back without needing any form of fix from you.

On the other hand, some trees will immediately begin to languish and eventually die without any action from you. So, ensure you identify your tree to know if you need to take action or not.

Step 2: Obtain Expert Opinion

You might sometimes need to get an expert opinion to determine the shape and state of your tree.

If you don’t have much experience with trees and shrubs, consider contacting an arborist.

These professionals can aid you with over-pruning problems and help your tree bounce back naturally. And whether you need to take action to spur this boost. Alternatively, the arborist will also tell you if there’s no solution to your tree or shrub.

Step 3: Exercise Patience

After identifying your tree as one that can bounce back, the next step is to exercise patience and watch your tree. For instance, if your tree wasn’t extremely diseased or weak, it should naturally grow back.

You should, however, know that you won’t realize this growth immediately. And this is because it takes some years to notice the bloom after heavy over-pruning.

Step 4: Provide Health Boost

The next step is to provide some extra boost to your tree’s growth. And this involves the provision of health care to the tree. Naturally, the absence of branches already places your tree at a disadvantage. The best thing to do is create an advantage for it.

Ensure your tree is appropriately watered, especially during the warm season and also look into using mulch.

This way, you can provide additional nutrition to the soil around your tree. In some cases, you might also need to add fertilizers to your tree.

Step 5: Engage in Thinning

After providing a health boost to your tree, you should begin to see some tree growth responses. However, this isn’t the end of the road. You’ll also need to help your tree maintain the right form.

As such, you’ll need to create an even canopy and maintain a sturdy tree branch.

Thinning is a useful activity to help create an even canopy, where it involves removing limbs from the branches to ensure increased sunlight penetration.

Step 6: Exercise Care

The process of fixing over pruned trees takes time. And a considerable amount of time at that. So, you’ll need to be patient once again to get the result you need. Also, you should remember this and exercise care when next you decide to prune your trees.

2. Fixing a Topped Tree

Generally, tree topping involves a situation whereby you have cut your tree’s top when pruning. And in turn, your tree is weak and likely to experience a decline.

What Happens to A Topped Tree?

When you create a topped tree when pruning, the effect is that your tree loses vital energy. And due to this loss of power, the tree reacts to remedy the damage and regain the energy.

As such, in time, the top of your tree gets covered in vertical, thin sprouts that appear like twigs. They are water sprouts, and they grow into the tree quickly, especially below the cut.

These sprouts then increase the height of your tree. And your tree might even reach the same height that it had before the pruning.

The only problem is that the tree is mainly unstable while also possessing an unfavorable silhouette. However, the good news is that you can fix this problem. To do this, follow the steps below.

How to Reshape and Repair A Topped Tree

It is essential during this process to exercise patience. Because initially, when the tree gets cut in the top, it grows several sprouts to reduce the damage and restore energy.

It may be very tempting to cut the new sprout but refrain from doing so. Please consider waiting till the shoots grow and your tree reaches its original height.

  • Assess the tree after and closely monitor it for signs of decay, cracks, and damage. Check for weak sprouts. They usually are short sprouts also have cracks and decays.
  • Prune said weak sprouts. And this should be done as far as to its trunk. Ensure you don’t cut shorter but healthy sprouts that appear like they might reach the height of the leaders. This is because the healthy sprouts usually become the new limbs of the leaders.
  • During this process, ensure the leader is stable and in a central position. This placement will enable it to grow successfully as your tree’s replacement branch.
  • Repairing or reshaping your topped tree is no one-day activity. You’ll need to repeat the process above consistently over four to six years. The steps said should be done once in a year or two years, depending on the type of tree you have.
  • Also, ensure you regularly trim the branches you didn’t cut at first. This technique is to train them and ensure they come out all correctly shaped.

When necessary, contact an arborist for tree service and advice to ensure you don’t lose your tree.

How to Trim Your Tree’s Branches: Step-By-Step

As already stated, you might need to engage in some pruning to fix an already over-pruned tree. And this is usually to ensure it takes a proper shape and remains healthy.

As such, it’s essential to know how to go about tree pruning. This way, you can effectively and efficiently complete the fixing procedure.

The video below shows you how to prune espalier fruit trees. I show when and how to do it in practical terms.

How to Prune Your Tree?

To prune your trees correctly, here’s a step-by-step guide.

Step 1: Remove Suckers

The first step is to rid your tree of suckers. Generally, they are weak, unhealthy, and weedy-looking offshoots at the base of your tree’s trunk.

Suckers are parts of the tree that won’t grow into proper branches and will affect the overall health of your tree, thanks to their energy-sucking potential.

As such, prune suckers from your tree to begin the pruning process.

Step 2: Prune Dying or Dead Branches

Next, to enjoy a smooth pruning process, you need to prune the dying or dead branches on your tree. And this is particularly relevant as it allows you to know what your tree has left.

So, assess your tree and identify the branches that appear dead or are already rotting and about to die. Then, remove them.

Step 3: Remove Hazardous or Unwanted Branches

After getting rid of dying or dead branches, you should have a more unobstructed view of your tree.

Now assess it again for unwanted branches that pose a risk of danger or hazard to you or your property. These branches will include branches touching your home, hanging low, or causing some form of property safety issues.

However, keep in mind that the objective here is to improve the tree canopy’s height or reduce obstruction. Prioritize trimming little branches instead of removing entire tree limbs.

Step 4: Prune Weak and Damaged Branches

Next in this process is identifying damaged tree branches. And this damage might be a result of storms or breakage. Then, ensure you prune these branches even though they might be alive.

Damaged branches in your trees invite diseases and pests to your plant.

Also, they can constitute a rot spot. And this generally affects the health of your plants. So, ensure you locate them all and remove them following the techniques above.

Step 5: Trim Crossing Branches

Now, you must have succeeded in getting a large part of your tree clean. As such, you have a better view of your tree.

Assess it for overlapping and crossing branches, which are branches that rub against one another. It is best to remove them for they cause damage to your tree over time.

After identifying them, remove the damaged branches in cases where both branches are damaged. Alternatively, where it’s just one, remove that single branch. Where damage is yet to occur, remove the smallest branch.

Appropriate Tree Pruning Techniques

Most over-pruning cases result from improper or inappropriate techniques, so a good grasp of them is important.

To avoid over-pruning when trying to rectify an already over-pruned tree here’s a guide.

1. Identify the Branch Collar Before Cutting

As soon as you decide to prune, you’ll need to identify the branch you want to remove. Afterward, you need first to locate the collar of that branch.

The branch’s collar is located where that branch sprouts out and connects to the tree.

You might find it easy to locate it on some trees. And you might find it hard locating it on others. However, generally, look for the area that forms a circle or ridge or a thick bark.

2. Cut Downward

Next, when cutting the branch, it’s vital to cut downward. And it’s critical to have this technique rooted in your mind. This need is because it’s a common mistake that has a devastating effect.

When you cut at an upward angle, you create a branch that’s susceptible to water drops. And when these drops settle on the wound, they can eventually result in rotting. As such, cut downward such that there’s a protrusion up protecting the tree wound from water drops.

3. Avoid Upward Growing Branches

Another common mistake is to trim tree branches that are on an upward growth trend. And the effect is that there’s usually a wound facing up, which makes the tree susceptible to water and rotting.

As such, always avoid branches that are on an upward growth trend. This way, you don’t create a new rot center that might affect your tree’s general health.

4. Avoid Leaving Long Stubs

Another thing to avoid when you’re pruning is leaving a stub that’s too long. This step is because long stubs make it harder for trees to create the necessary callus. That’s why it’s essential to identify the branch collar before cutting.

Ensure the stubs are extremely short and very close to the tree trunk. This way, the tree can form the necessary callus around the wound effectively. And in turn, maintain your tree’s general health and your attempt to fix over-pruning.

5. Cutting Large Branches

Another common mistake is for people to cut large branches in the same way they cut small branches. There’s an appropriate technique for cutting them, and you can get it done by using the three-step process below:

Step OneExecute a hollow cut around the branch’s underside.
Ensure it’s between 4 and 5 inches far from the tree trunk.
Step TwoCut off the branch in an area between 2 and 3 inches away from the first cut.
This way, the first cut prevents the peeling of the bark around the trunk.
Step ThreeElectrical or Gas-Powered Chain Saws

On this cautious note, let us move on to pruning tips one should avoid to risk over pruning your trees.

Tree Pruning Tips to Avoid Over Pruning

It’s always best to avoid over-pruning your trees. As such, the techniques and step-by-step guide above become very relevant. However, beyond them, there are some points to note if you want to avoid over-pruning entirely. Here you go.

  • If you’re a first-timer or novice in pruning, it’s always best to start small. Avoid diving in entirely in your first attempt. Begin with one and at most two out of the steps listed above. You can then continue the rest after a year or so.
  • Exercise caution when removing big tree limbs. And this is because cutting large limbs can pose a health risk to trees. Precisely, avoid cutting them unless there’s a compelling reason to cut them. Compelling reasons will include where the trees are dead, diseased, damaged, or hazardous.
  • Avoid trimming more than one-fourth of your tree’s branches – living ones. If the need arises, don’t do it at the same time. It’s best to wait for a time-lapse between both cuts.

One essential reminder is to check your tree at all angles during pruning. This is a sure way for you to see before making cuts if your tree is going lopsided. Ensure you’re conscious of this need, as it’s common for people to lose track of form when trimming.

Using Pruning Equipment

Another critical part of fixing over-pruning and avoiding over-pruning is using the correct equipment. The various relevant kit includes:

1. Pruning Shears

They are usually handy and can be used to cut stems. However, they are more suitable for smaller ones – stems with a diameter of less than one inch.

As such, avoid using them for big branches as it will result in a lousy cut and spoil the shears. You can go for either the scissor or an anvil type. Generally, the scissor-type produces a closer and cleaner cut.

2. Lopping Shears

This shear is a much bigger shear than pruning shears. And they generally come with long handles that you can operate with your hands. It comes in different ranges and can cut branches that are as much as 2 inches thick. However, you should avoid using it with extremely tough or large branches.

3. Pruning Saws

They are usually large and may be either folding or rigid. Pruning saws are handy if you have to prune large branches. They are also straightforward to use and cut into branches very fast.

4. Bow Saws

They are somewhat similar to pruning saws. The only difference is that they are quite limited in their use. As such, you would only enjoy their use in situations where there are no obstructions before you.

Precisely, you’ll generally require at least a foot of space around the area you intend to cut.

5. Electrical or Gas-Powered Chain Saws

These are very useful if you intend to prune huge branches of trees. And they come in various sizes. However, it can be quite tricky to use them, especially for inexperienced people. And it has some safety concerns. As such, professionals are those who it’s appropriate for.

Other tools that you might find useful include chisels, pruning knives, mallets, and gouges.

Maintaining Pruning Tools

Another vital part of the effective utilization of pruning equipment involves proper maintenance. This is important because it allows you to get a clean and precise cut. As such, you need to ensure your tools are correctly maintained and sharp for the task.

You’ll need to store them in a warm room and also keep them clean. Disinfect them regularly, especially in cases where you prune infected trees. Failure to do so may result in diseases to other healthy plants.

You can always use bleach or alcohol on the equipment after each use. Also, clean and oil the equipment thoroughly to avoid rusting.

Conclusion on how to fix an overpruned tree

Tree pruning is a slow process of painstaking care and forethought. It is also especially crucial in urban settings, where the tree’s health decline may cause serious damage to the public (source).

The damaged branches may fall off, cause personal injury, or damage to properties near it as well.

Hopefully, the steps above will help you with the upkeep and pruning process of trees. But should you feel like you personally don’t have time anymore to follow your tree’s growth, or if the tree is rare and fragile, consider contacting arborists.

Their experience in the field will surely make the process more smooth sailing and make sure that your tree will be okay.

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Tony O'Neill

I am Tony O'Neill, A full-time firefighter, and professional gardener. I have spent most of my life gardening. From the age of 7 until the present day at 46. My goal is to use my love and knowledge of gardening to support you and to simplify the gardening process so you are more productive

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