Lopping, topping, pollarding, and coppicing are all forms of pruning that have one thing in common: The primary focus is on a short range change in the tree or shrub’s form.
On a shrub this is shearing, cutting all the branches to the same height, as in a hedge. On a tree though, it’s hard to identify any situation that wouldn’t be better served by fine pruning, like removing only the branches that are blocking a view.
Fine Pruning the cuts are made one at a time, each cut considering the long and short-range dendrological effects on the plant, the impact on the landscape, and on the gardener’s interests. Fine pruning is particularly important during the early development of any woody plant.
It’s wise to tackle the big problems first. In doing so you may also be eliminating multiple smaller ones.
So here we’d start with the multiple leaders or vertical branches that are crowding the interior in the diagram on the left. Off with them! Same with “water sprouts” on the trunk or branches and suckers that spring up at the base. Taking them off while they’re small can save major pruning later.
We’d look for branches that are crossing or rubbing, not only now, but those that seem to be heading for trouble in the future. Off, or cut back to a side branch headed in right direction. Broken branches provide entry points for disease and insects. Off with them too.
There’s one other possible target that I see in the unpruned tree on the left. Ground clearance. I would remove the lowest branch on the right to establish a more symmetrical appearance. This could also be important in a parking lot or to provide for mower access to the turf below. DON’T leave a stub. If the branch collar is left intact after pruning, the wound will seal more effectively and stem tissue probably will not decay.
Coppicing is an English term for a traditional method of woodland management which takes advantage of the fact that many trees make new growth from the stump or roots if cut down. In a coppiced wood, young tree stems are repeatedly cut down to near ground level. In subsequent growth years, many new shoots will emerge. After a number of years the coppiced tree, or stool, is ready to be harvested, and the cycle begins again.
Pollarding is a pruning system in which the upper branches of a tree are removed, promoting a dense head of foliage and branches. It has been common in Europe since medieval times and is practiced today in urban areas worldwide, primarily to maintain trees at a predetermined height.
- To remove large branches, three or four cuts will be necessary to avoid tearing the bark. Make the first cut on the underside of the branch about 18 inches from the trunk. Undercut one-third to one-half way through the branch. Make the second cut an inch further out on the branch; cut until the branch breaks free.
- Before making the final cut severing a branch from the main stem, identify the branch collar. The branch collar grows from the stem tissue around the base of the branch. Make pruning cuts so that only branch tissue (wood on the branch side of the collar) is removed. Be careful to prune just beyond the branch collar, but
- The third cut may be made by cutting down through the branch, severing it. If, during removal, there is a possibility of tearing the bark on the branch underside, make an undercut first and then saw through the branch.
What time of year do we want to do this fine pruning? Now! In late winter when the trees are fully dormant, but before they break dormancy. With all the leaves off, you can better see what needs to be done.
NOTE: Pruning fruit trees, shrubs or vines have some different objectives though many of the same considerations and techniques do apply.
Article written by Glenn Palmer, Extension Master Gardener Volunteer.