Why Not to Limb up Evergreen Trees

Updated on May 11, 2019
landocheese profile image

I'm a gardener and nature lover. I enjoy writing articles and how-to guides that help people learn new things.

Trimming Evergreen Trees

If you're trying to decide whether or not to limb up evergreen trees in your yard, do your homework first. There are a few things that you need to know about evergreens and what it might mean to remove some branches from them. In some cases, this is not a problem, where in others it can harm the tree.

Best Time to Prune

Late winter to early spring is best to keep your tree safe.

When to Prune Evergreen Trees

Before we go into whether or not pruning is even required, first know that the time of year that the pruning is completed is important. For most evergreen trees, the best time to prune is when branches are not actively growing. This will make it much easier to avoid additional damage to tree bark and the likelihood of an unwanted fungal disease goes way down by choosing a slow time of year.

The best time to prune evergreens is from late winter to early spring, well before any new growth will take off for the new season.

This Colorado blue spruce looks perfect with every branch still intact.
This Colorado blue spruce looks perfect with every branch still intact. | Source

Which Evergreen Branches to Prune

Now that you know the best time to prune, let's talk about which branches should be taken. Do not start limbing up the tree before considering this. It is best to leave the branches of an evergreen tree to grow naturally, however, there are some reasons that pruning makes sense.

A newly planted tree is one such occasion. When a new tree is brought home from the nursery, it may have a few branches that are overlapping or growing right next to each other. This tends to happen more often when trees are young than later in life, so removal of such branches is acceptable. This means that another branch will still be growing in that area.

The existence of two leaders at the top of the tree is another case where selective pruning may make sense. It may be worthwhile to wait one more year to see how the tree manages the leaders, however, since one may win the race. If not, removal of the redundant leader can save you from having a "Y" shaped main trunk down the road.

Diseased branches are one more case where cutting may make sense. Cutting the dead end from a branch that is otherwise healthy can actually prevent further damage to the tree.

When snow falls, lower branches carry the weight of upper branches.
When snow falls, lower branches carry the weight of upper branches. | Source

Should You Limb up Evergreen Trees?

The answer to this question is usually no. To remove full limbs from an evergreen tree is a very permanent decision that should be made carefully. For many evergreens, especially young pines and spruces of all ages, the limb structure is part of what makes the tree strong. The lower limbs of the tree support the upper limbs in times of severe weather or heavy snow, and their removal can have a permanent effect on the tree.

For aesthetic reasons, these branches are also best left untouched. There is no question that an evergreen tree looks best when grown in a natural state, with branches growing naturally from the ground up. A pine tree will shed some lower branches as it ages all by itself, where a spruce will normally stick close to the ground forever if left uncut. Trees that are limbed up can look anything from odd to plain silly.

If you are considering this pruning technique because a tree was planted in the wrong spot such as right next to a sidewalk or driveway, a better solution may be removal and replanting the area with a proper tree.

Spruce branches have shorter needles that occur all along the branch tips.
Spruce branches have shorter needles that occur all along the branch tips. | Source

Pine vs. Spruce Tree Pruning

There is a difference between how a pine and spruce tree grows, and it matters when pruning. You can tell the difference by looking a the needles.

A pine tree has needles that grow to the same spot, typically with 2-5 needles per group. Branches between these connecting points have no needles at all, except on very young trees, where it is harder to see this pattern. Pine trees often have needles much longer, and softer, than spruce trees. Most pines thin out as they age and sway in the breeze. When pruning a pine tree, do not prune further than the last set of needles, preferably just past a noticeable bud that will develop new needles to hide the cut. Any branch that is pruned inside of the last needles will not regrow and might as well be pruned to within an inch or two from the main trunk.

A spruce tree has needles that are stiff and shorter. The needles of a spruce tree appear all along the stem, offering a very full appearance. Until a spruce tree is old or unless it is grown in a wooded area, it is usually dense and difficult or impossible to see through to the other side. When pruning a spruce tree, prune to a point just above a healthy branch that is covered in needles. From this point, the tree will continue to grow and eventually cover the cut. Pruning back to the main trunk is not a cut that the tree can reproduce a branch from, so think twice before making this choice.

Pine needles join the branch at certain points, and pines produce "candles" that form new branches.
Pine needles join the branch at certain points, and pines produce "candles" that form new branches. | Source
Needles grow to certain points
Needles continue along branch
Needles are longer and softer
Needles are shorter and stiff
Tree sways in the breeze
Tree is quite rigid
You can usually see through it
Dense branches are difficult to see through
Either way, prune to just above a healthy bud to keep the branch going.

How to Prune Diseased Evergreen Branches

If you must prune a branch because disease has struck, follow these tips. First, remove the entire dead area plus at least a few inches more for good measure, as the end of the branch that still looks healthy may be infected.

Keep your cutting tools clean between cuts, since they can easily spread the disease to other areas of the tree. Any tool should be rinsed in household bleach between every cut to avoid further damage to an otherwise healthy branch.

Get the cut branches away from the tree at once and into a burn pile or to the curb to be taken away.

If branches of any significance must be cut, make three separate cuts to take the branch so the bark will not be damaged. The first cut should be from the bottom and about a third of the way through the branch. If you are removing the entire branch, keep this cut a foot or so from the main trunk. The second cut should be from the top just beyond the first cut. This cut is made until the branch falls off. Finally, a third cut should be made to clean up the branch and leave it with one clean cut. If this cut is near the main trunk, do not cut into the branch collar, or that raised area connected to the trunk. Instead, cut just beyond it.

Final Thoughts

Unless you have dead or crossed branches, or a tree growing into something it shouldn't, pruning is something that is probably not needed and not advised. Leaving your evergreen tree to grow in its natural shape will almost certainly look better in the long run, and may very well make the tree healthier over time.

If you must prune, do it in the right season unless storm damage forces your hand, disinfect cutting tools after each branch is cut, and try to cut just above a healthy bud. By following these tips, your tree will have a chance to fill in the space over time.

Questions & Answers

  • Can you share your thoughts on deadwood removal from evergreen trees?

    Generally, it is acceptable to remove dead branches on pine trees as they won't grow back. On spruce trees, it can be helpful for the tree to remove dead branch sections so that healthy branches can replace them, since spruces will regrow along the healthy branches that have buds.

  • Is it OK to cut some of the top off of an evergreen?

    It's ok, but consider why you would want to do that. If you have 2 leaders, for example, eliminating one of them makes sense. To avoid a curve in the main trunk you want to be careful to not just top off the tree abruptly. If you are cutting the top off because the tree is too tall or under a power line, it may be best to consider an alternative, as the overall appearance and natural shape of the tree is likely to get worse over time.

  • Should you trim dead branches from tall white pine trees that are 70-80 feet tall?

    I would base the answer on where the tree is and how it looks. The problem with truly dead branches on a white pine is that they will eventually break off, so if that is a danger to whatever is below the tree - such as people, cars, etc. - it may be prudent to remove them. Once a pine branch is dead it won't come back to life.

  • Will branches grow back on evergreen trees?

    As indicated, it depends on the type of evergreen tree and where the branches were pruned. Generally, spruce trees will regrow as long as buds are available, but pine trees pruned past the last set of needles on a branch will not.


    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment
    • profile image


      4 months ago

      I have a very large pine tree that had a large limb fall during a storm. This has left a very jagged area. Should a clean cut be made. Should something be painted on this to prevent desease?

    • profile image


      12 months ago

      Someone cut the single branch off the top of my evergreen and it was not because there were 2 leaders. The tree look awkward now, is there anything I can do to make it grow correctly?

    • profile image

      Diane DeNuccio 

      15 months ago

      Limbed up my Douglas Fir. A few years later, it fell on my house. Top heavy, strong wind.

    • profile image

      Sharon Worthington 

      24 months ago

      Your expectation of how to cut an evergreen tree was wonderful.

    • profile image

      C Ferrari 

      2 years ago

      The city came and is destroying our whole neighborhood to lay new water pipes. They cut all over my blue spruce trees, from bottom up, and they look horrible--there are knots everywhere, and they did this without care, just wacked them off. This was September 7. The construction manager "said" they'd take care of it correctly through an arborist, but no dates have been set and I don't believe it. I need to know if I should have them taken out, replaced in or around the areas (two were on either side of my driveway) and if the city will replace the trees at all. Does anyone know?

    • profile image


      2 years ago

      I had a blue spruce shrub in the landscape near the front door that was very overgrown and wide for the space, so I pruned off the lower branches....lots of them. It actually looks great, but I realize I have done it at the wrong time of year and left many wounds on the trunk. Should I paint the wounds with something to try to deter fungus, and if so with what?

    • profile image

      Barbara Aanderud 

      2 years ago

      If you are considering this, please don't. They look horrible when trimmed up from the bottom.

    • BWD316 profile image

      Brian Dooling 

      5 years ago from Connecticut

      Great information! I always thought a lot of older evergreen trees would look aesthetically better if you trimmed the branches at the bottom but now I realize, that's probably not a good idea! Thanks!

    • mariki-raven profile image

      The Real Joe 

      5 years ago from Everywhere

      I like this hub. I am still new to hubpages and just now started getting into evergreen, environmental, and nature writing. I think this hub was done nicely and explains things nicely.

    • Sheri Faye profile image

      Sheri Dusseault 

      7 years ago from Chemainus. BC, Canada

      This is interesting. I have had to trim my evergreens as they were getting way to big for my yard, but I had it professionally done, so they look pretty good. Great hub!


    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, dengarden.com uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at: https://maven.io/company/pages/privacy

    Show Details
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the googleapis.com or gstatic.com domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)
    ClickscoThis is a data management platform studying reader behavior (Privacy Policy)