Tree Trimming

The different types of tree trimming


There are many different types of tree trimming depending on what the purpose of the trimming is. For example there is

view trimmed trees at Sea Brook Wa
Trees view trimmed at Sea Brook. Before trimming you could not see the ocean
  • View Trimming
  • Horticultural Trimming
  • Safety Sailing
  • Clearance Trimming
  • Skirting Up
  • Topping
  • Tree Pruning ( Fruit Tree Trimming )
  • Dead Wood Trimming (Dead Wooding)
  • Foliage Reduction Trimming
  • Day Lighting Trimming (enhancing filtered sunlight)


view trimming
view trimmed


view trimmed
view trimmed

View trimming is just as the name suggest. It is the process of removing branches in order to enhance a view. This could be a view of water or a mountain or a valley      or nice looking houses or other structures. It could be a view of the lawn or landscaping from a second or third floor looking down. It could be a view of a beach or even the view of more sky. Really it could be anything that  a person wants to see better. I have view trimmed so that a customer could see boulders. I’ve trimmed trees in order for a customer to see a red barn and green grass with sheep grazing. We have even trimmed trees in order to see more trees behind more trees etc. So as you walk looking out towards the trees, the view changes with every step.

two dimensional looking before trimming
two dimensional looking before trimming

Normally when you look at a cluster of trees before view trimmed, the trees look more two dimensional.


after trimmied trees look more three dimensional
After trees are trimmed they look more three dimensional

And after trimming, the trees look more three-dimensional. Before trimming, a cluster of trees looks more like one big body of trees. And after trimming it brings out each individual tree with its separate beauty with its individual characteristics yet still looks like it belongs in the one group of trees. It’s a little hard to describe but it sure looks beautiful.


With horticultural trimming its purpose is for the health of the tree. The way that we do that is we cut off any dead limbs, broken limbs, damaged limbs, decaying limbs. Any limbs that are crossing each other and rubbing against each other ( cross limbs ). If a limb has a cavity in it to a point where we feel it may break, that limb gets removed as well. If we see stubs,        ( limbs that have been broken or cut off but is not flush to the tree ), we cut those flush.

sky view



The purpose of safety sailing is to trim the tree in such a way that it is less likely for the tree to fall over in the event of high winds. We do this by selectively cutting up to a third of the limbs off. We don’t do anything to the canopy of the tree so the size height and width stay the same.

On a conifer tree we go almost all the way to the top of the tree within just a few feet from the top. Normally three or four inches in diameter. Then from there we start selectively cutting limbs off flush to the trunk. We usually cut one out of three limbs off. Sometimes one in four limbs or fewer gets cut off depending on what the customers want.

 There needs to be an initial consultation with the customer to discuss the options. We need to weigh the pluses and minuses. The more limbs that you take the less sail that remains so the less likely for the tree to fall over. That has to be weighed against the more limbs that are taken the more stress there is on the tree. What determines where the decision line is drawn depends on many variables such as the species of the tree, the age of the tree, and the general health of the tree.

Since we need to reduce the amount of limbs in order to reduce sail, while selecting which limbs we cut off, of course we cut off any dead, broken, damaged limbs etc. while we’re at it. We also cut off any sucker growth as well.

When we safety sail deciduous trees we basically do the same thing except we usually only go about three quarters the way up to start the trimming and work our way down from there.


Clearance tree trimming is the process of cutting limbs back in order to get clearance between the limb(s) and the object that you are getting clearance from. In clearance tree trimming we don’t necessarily cut the limb back flush to the trunk, in fact in most cases we cut the limb back to what is called a proper lateral.               ( A proper lateral is a smaller branch coming off of the branch that you are cutting that is one third the size of that which you are cutting off ). For example if the customer wanted a three-foot clearance, we would go back three feet from the object and cut at the first proper lateral. Sometimes that would be three feet or it could be four feet or more. We would keep going back on each limb until we found the first proper lateral. If there isn’t a proper lateral we would then cut the limb off flush at the trunk                           

Skirting up



Skirted up and topped. Not horticulerly correct but it's done all the timeSkirting up is the process of cutting limbs flush with the trunk of the tree starting at the first limbs from the ground working up to the desired height. This is normally done in order to raise the limbs to a further distance from the ground. There are many reasons that a person may decide skirt the trees. One reason is for the lawn to get more light. Another reason is to be able to walk under the tree without having to duck. Another reason might be to drive under with a vehicle or a riding lawn mower or tractor. Or in cases of construction sometimes we need to do skirting so the heavy equipment can get in under the limbs.

Also, some people do it because of the aesthetics. It does look nice!


Topping is the process of cutting the top of a tree off. Topping a tree is the most effective way for lowering the odds of a tree falling over in the event of high winds. However, there are potential negative effects that can result due to topping.



1: If you are topping a conifer tree that has one trunk, what will usually happen at some point after topping is that two or more new tops will start to grow at the place that was topped. So years latter you will end up with two or three or even more tops. Let’s say that you topped the tree at 80 feet high. Then 25 or 30 years later two new tops grew up from that 80 foot point. And each of those tops grew another 30 or 40 feet or more. So in this example its as if you have two 30 or 40 foot trees growing on top of another tree that is eighty feet tall. Often times that point at which the tree was topped can be weaker and one or both of the tops can break off. That can cause a considerable amount of damage or even death if a 40-foot tree fell from 80 feet in the air. It’s not actually more then one tree its still considered one tree. So the two tops plus the one main tree is not three trees. It is one tree that has two tops.

improperly topped. No proper laterl and wound too large to easily heal.High probability rot will set in.
improperly topped. No proper lateral and wound too large to easily heal. High probability rot will set in.


2: The point where you cut the top off often has a difficult time healing over. The larger the cut the more difficult the time. Let’s say that you topped the tree at a foot in diameter. The way that a tree heals itself is that it wants to cover the open wound by growing new wood over the exposed cut. Kind of like when you get a cut your body wants to heal itself by sealing off and scabbing over your cut. But because where you topped the tree at 12 inches that means that the tree wants to cover the entire twelve inches. That can and does take many years to do so.

If the tree can’t heal itself fast enough a cavity can set in and advance into rot.

3: A cavity can get started at the point where you topped. What happens is that the way that the tree heals itself is that it starts on the very outside edge of the cut. It grows a little rim around the outside diameter of the entire cut. Then it slowly inches its way towards the center until the cut is completely healed. So in this case our cut is twelve inches in diameter so there is a race that ensues between rot that can set in and the tree healing over before that can happen. If the tree successfully heals over before rot sets in then the tree should be strong at that point. However even though the wood will be strong  after healing successfully it is still advisable to re top from time to time because it can still be a hazard.

This cut is healing nicely. But there is a race happening between rot setting in and the tree sealing itself in time.

If the tree didn’t heal over in time then rot can set in. If the tree starts to rot then water and insects etc. starts to increase the rotting era. Then even if the tree does seal over where the cut was you now have a cavity inside of the tree. This cavity can grow and grow working its way down the truck of the tree making that part of the tree get weaker and weaker. At the same time the tree can still be growing and growing and getting heavier. So its a time bomb waiting to ignite.


If it is a deciduous tree that you are topping the same things apply as a conifer but there are a few different methods that can be used. What method that you decide to use depends on what it is that you are trying to accomplish and what type of deciduous tree that you are topping.

  • One method of topping a deciduous tree is to cut every thing back to the nearest proper lateral at the desired height. A proper lateral is defined as a lateral that is at least one third the diameter of whatever you are cutting off. In other words if the part that you are cutting off is 3 inches in diameter you would find a lateral ( a branch coming off the main branch ) that is one inch in diameter or larger.   


  • Another method of topping is to not pay any attention to the laterals but to simply cut the tops at the desired height. This is not the healthiest method for the tree, but  with certain tree species it’s fine. 


  • Yet another method is to do a style of topping called drop crotching. That method is a little hard to explain but I will do my best. When you have a tree that the trunks are generally going in a vertical position (growing upwards) look at the height of the very very top of a truck. Notice its height, then slowly look down the trunk noticing other limbs that grow off of the virtical trunk. Then notice the height of that limb growing off of the trunk of that limb. If the height of the lower limb is the desired height that you are looking for then cut the main trunk off at that shorter limb. If it is not the desired height then keep looking down the main limb until you come to a lateral that has the desired height.


  • Fruit tree pruning. When pruning fruit trees for example an apple tree, normally the goal is to keep the tree canopy lower to the ground so it is easier to harvest the fruit. This is done by cutting off all the limbs growing straight up and leaving horizontal limbs at the desired height of the tree.


Deadwooding a tree is the process of cutting out the wood that is dead.


Proper foliage reduction trimming is the process of reducing the amount of foliage in a tree while practicing proper horticultural trimming practices.


Daylighting is trimming a tree with the intention of allowing more filtered sun to come through the tree. This is great for increasing sunlight on lawn and lower vegetation in order to improve their health through increased photosynthesis. It also helps reduce moss and unwanted mushrooms.


There are many ways to trim or prune a tree depending on what you are trying to accomplish. And depending on the species, time of year, health of the tree etc. And there are many ways to trim or prune a tree depending on what you are trying accomplish many methods to achieve your desired result.

With over 46 years in the professional tree service industry I have seen countless tree jobs that were improperly trimmed. Improperly trimmed trees can cause great problems in the future that was the fault of inexperienced tree trimmers or workers that just didn’t care enough to do the job right.

My best costumers that we have had over the years were educated customers. When you hire a tree contractor don’t just find out if they are licensed bonded and insured. Ask them some questions about proper trimming practices. Ask them what they think about “proper laterals”. Ask them to explain what are the proper horticultural practices of trimming a tree. You’ll be surprised as to the answers you get.

Like my dad used to always say “don’t let just anyone monkey around with your trees”.