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Different systems of pruning

Updated: Apr 18, 2023

The pruning system is a technique applied to develop long-term form of the plant. The design of the landscape and your goals all need to be considered.

Most routine pruning and removal of weak, diseased, undesirable, or dead branches can be accomplished at any time with little negative effect on the tree. Adjusting timing of pruning based on where a tree is it's annual growth cycle can help achieve desired results.

As a general guideline, plant growth is maximized if pruning is done jut before the buds swell, in late winter or early spring; growth is minimized by pruning in late spring and summer.

The most common pruning style used by arborists is the natural, which is an informal style that improves the natural form and shape. It may involve branch removal and/or reduction to avoid conflict with nearby buildings or lamp posts. It encourages strong architecture, allows desirable views and provides clearance for mowing or walking if needed.

However, there are some very specialized pruning system that you may have not heard of.


A formal pruning system in which shrubs, vines or trees are pruned into a specific shape by shearing or pruning


Pollarding is a training system that involves severe heading cuts the first year follo

A line of trees that have been trimming in the pollarding style

wed by sprout removal every few years to maintain size and appearance. This process results in pollard heads. Pollarding is used to maintain trees in a certain size range but this is done when the tree is very young and not all trees respond well to pollarding.


Espalier is a combination of pruning and training branches that are oriented in one plane usually supported by a wall, fence, or trellis. The pattern can be simple or complex. This process has been used for centuries on fruit trees, where space was limited.

A tree that has been pruned in the espalier style up against the wall of a house


Pleaching is a system that involves interweaving branches horizontally to form an arbor, wall, or arching tunnel.

Fruit Production

Apples in a basket
Fruit Production

There are numerous subsystems used in the commercial production of tree fruit. These systems are specific to the tree species, but the intent of all of them is to maximize fruit production.


Bonsai is a general term for a system that maintains container-grown trees at a small size.

*Information from publications by the International Society of Arboriculture

Apple Image by karlyukav on Freepik

Bonsai Image by Image by brgfx on Freepik

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