Is your house being overshadowed by a tree? If you're thinking of calling in a tree surgeon to remove it. Stop right there! I'm going to explain why you need to crown lift first. Crown lifting is a relatively hidden pruning technique familiar with professional gardeners and arborists. Most new gardeners have no idea what it is. So today I'm going to explain exactly why crown lifting should always be preferable to simply calling in the tree surgeon to remove a tree.

It’s a sad fact that an area the size of the UK is being lost each year worldwide to deforestation. Trees are being felled and cut down at an alarming rate. Now even local UK councils are stealth tree felling claiming that their ‘maintenance’ costs outweigh trees environmental benefits. It’s all too easy for homeowners to see trees as a nuisance. This is mainly down to the general lack of understanding around trees vital roles such as carbon-storing and slowing down the flow of water in flood risk areas. Rather than rushing for the chainsaw, we need to approach a much more measured approach to tree pruning.

One of the biggest complaints is that older larger trees block out light from peoples houses. The next step is usually having a tree surgeon turn up (or worse a person with no arborist experience and an overly eager chain saw) and cut down the tree entirely. However, there’s an easier, cheaper and more environmentally friendly way to reduce trees shading your house. Which you can do yourself.

This article is going to show you how in a couple of hours with some basic tools you can not only keep your beautiful trees but let more light in around them. It’s a win for you and the environment.

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What is a crown lift?

A crown lift is the pruning technique of removing lower branches on a mature tree which lifts the canopy or crown of the tree. It’s a really simple technique that is woefully underused in tree pruning. In fact, crown pruning can often improve the health of your tree and surrounding plants due to the increase of light and air. Crown lift pruning of trees can also increase a tree’s vigour, by sending energy resources elsewhere. Which helps to breathe life into an older unproductive tree.

I urge anyone thinking of cutting down a tree to think about a crown lift first, even if you do it to prove that the tree may need to be felled if nothing else. You will be amazed by the difference a decent crown lift can provide.

A fir tree before a crown lift prune
This Pine Tree is overcrowded for its location. It’s blocking light from a nearby lounge and also makes it impossible to mow around it without doing the limbo underneath it.

Crown lifting is probably the easiest tree surgery as in most cases you won’t need a ladder, scary power tools or complicated techniques. For the most part, crown lifting can be done with both feet firmly on the ground using a saw and some gloves.

Pruning a tree to let in more light

If you have large mature trees in your garden you may find that they cast a shadow on your house or adjacent rooms causing shade. A crown lift will help bring more light in and give a better definition to the tree whilst still keeping the benefits the tree brings. A crown lift can be done on most types of tree. By removing the lower branches you may be amazed at what a difference it makes inside the house and also to improve the shape of the tree.

It’s always best to check the time of year to undertake tree pruning. As a rule of thumb, you want to prune *most trees during the winter when they are dormant. This also allows you to assess their branch structure easily as the leaves will have fallen. With Evergreens winter is a good time as the sap won’t have risen yet so weeping and bleeding can be kept to a minimum. (*Certain trees require summer pruning such as Birch or Prunus to save bleeding or winter borne diseases such as Silverleaf).

Lifting the Crown involves removing the lower branches like this example. It’s super easy and I will show you how!

New gardeners seem to be apprehensive about pruning and removing parts of trees. Maybe due to the fact that without horticultural knowledge of botany, it can seem counterproductive. Pruning is actually one of the best ways to encourage growth in a plant. So rather than thinking of what you may lose we need to start thinking about pruning as something you do to gain!

If you’ve not already watched my pruning guides then click here to get up to speed on the correct pruning techniques.

How to Crown Lift a Tree

Before we start tree pruning you’re going to need a sharp saw and a pair of secateurs. Make sure that both are clean, free from rust and in good working order. You may also need a pair of loppers for branches that are too thin to saw but too thick for secateurs. It goes without saying that wearing gloves and some proper work shoes is essential. If in doubt have a ‘garden helper’ hold branches for you and take care when handling sharp tools. Also having a dog as a watchman is not essential but can make the process more fun!

Step 1 – Assess the tree

The first step is to assess the tree and see how far up the tree trunk you need to take the crown lift. Is it just the bottom branches or a few layers that need removing? In my example of this pine tree, I want to clear the bottom 3 – 4 branches so I can walk under to mow the lawn. I’ve also worked out this will allow enough light into the rooms looking onto the garden.

Take a step back and work out how much of the lower tree canopy needs to be removed.

Step 2 – Remove the bottom branches

Start by removing the bottom branches first. You’re going to want to use a wood saw for most branches and the aim is to make clean damage-free cuts.

Top Tip: Always cut the underside of the branch first up to 1/3 of the way through. Then flip the saw around and cut from the top. This prevents the weight of the branch ripping away from the tree causing damage.

crown lift tree pruning guide by garden ninja
Cutting off a tree branch the right way
Crown lifting a tree

Step 3 – Ensure your cuts are clean

Make sure your cuts are clean and slightly angled so water can runoff. Also, make sure you leave a small gap of a 5mm before the main trunk. This is to stop any dieback or damage affecting the main trunk. This means that the wounds can dry up and heal correctly. It also stops you inadvertently damaging the main tree is you slip with the saw.

A clean pruning ‘scar’ that is slightly angled so water can run down and off. Don’t be tempted to cut further into the tree, leave a small excess so it can dry out.

Step 4 – Reduce larger branches first

If you’re cutting larger heavy branches then make the cuts in stages. Do this by starting your cuts at the very tip of larger branches and take off a third, then a third again until you’re closer to the main tree trunk. By reducing the length before making the final cut, you’re reducing the stress and weight of the branch. This helps reduce tearing or damage.

Garden ninja holding atree saw for a crown lift

Step 5 – Stand back to assess the shape

Stand back and assess the progress making sure you’re keeping the trees shape balanced. I find taking one of each side and alternating helps this. If not you can end up with a wonky tree!

Pruning a large tree properly
I prune off branches alternating from each side first to keep balance.
Garden Ninja tree pruning a crown lift
Keep standing back for perspective. See how much clearer the trunk is becoming as I crown lift this tree?

Step 6 – Enjoy your work!

Once you’re at the right level then your crown lift is complete. The trimmings can then be dried to use as firewood or recycled. You can also use a chipper to shred the branches to make woodchip for garden paths or mulches. So there’s zero waste!

A tree with a crown lift
The finished result provides more light, better tree shape and most importantly doesn’t involve the expensive removal of healthy trees!
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Pruning Trees for Shape

You may have gathered from this article that I’m a huge fan of trees in Garden Design. It saddens me to hear clients complaining of trees being to big or casting too much shade who then completely fell the tree. Trees are a massive store of the worlds excess carbon. They lock away Co2 that our industrial world pumps out at an alarming rate. Producing o2 in exchange for imprisoning this carbon.

If you think how long it takes most trees to reach a mature size, between 10-30 years on average for most trees. To simply cut them down leaves you with not only space you will need to fill but all that effort has gone to waste. Wildlife relies on trees for shelter and food. Trees roots anchor the ground and help slow down the movement of water, reducing the risk of flooding.

Garden Ninja Blogger smiling next to a waterfall
Trees are an essential part of our ecosystem. Just look at the variety behind me here in Scotland. Imagine this picture without trees?

Contrary to other urban myths most tree roots are not going to uproot your house if they’re planted at a sensible distance away. In most of the examples it usually user error in planting really vigorous trees within a foot or so of houses foundations or walls where subsidence can occur as the tree sucks the moisture out of the surrounding soil causing movement.

No matter how much gardening experience you have we all have a shared duty to look after our environments. I hope that by reading this you will give crown lifting a go before calling in a tree surgeon to remove a tree. Not only will you save yourself a fortune but also be giving mother nature a much needed helping hand.

Watch my ‘How to Prune’ Playlist. Make sure you subscribe!

If you have questions or pruning comments why not let me know below? You can Tweet, Facebook or Instagram me. You can also follow me on Youtube where I’ve got plenty of garden guide vlogs!

Happy Pruning!

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