Yellowstone Arboretum Style Page

"The Art of Pruning"




Pollarding is a pruning system involving the removal of the upper branches of a tree, which promotes the growth of a dense head of foliage and branches. In ancient Rome, Propertius mentioned pollarding during the 1st century BCE.

What is Pollarding?

So just what is pollarding and why do we do it? When a tree care professional pollards a tree, we cut off the central leader of the tree first, and then we cut all of the branches that are around the same height. This helps to shorten the crown of the tree. We try to keep the height of the tree at least six feet above the ground for safety AND to keep animals from grazing.

Pollarding also removes lower limbs and any crossing limbs – which is a typical part of tree pruning. While it may look silly at first or like your tree has been destroyed, you will soon see a thick crown growing back. This is why it is so important to pollard young trees – older trees will take longer to grow back in and fill with greens.

Pollarding typically takes place when the tree is dormant, so while that will vary from tree to tree, it is most common during the early spring months or winter.

According to Gardening Know How, it also makes your trees less susceptible to getting a disease or fungus.

Why We Do It

There are many reasons why people get their trees pollarded. They do so because their trees are unsafe in such a small space, they do so because they want their trees to fit into their landscaping better, maybe they do so because the tree isn’t growing in a way that is sustainable.

The history of pollarding has been explained by SF Home Guides: “Historically, Europeans pollarded and coppiced trees to produce quick wood growth for kindling, fencing and basket-making. Nowadays, pollarding keeps tree branches from interfering with electrical wires and obstructing pedestrian and vehicular traffic. It is also used to keep large trees smaller than normal and reduce the shade they cast. The new growth on some trees is colorful, with pollarding producing constantly fresh branches.”

When You Should Consider This Technique

You should consider this technique if you feel like your trees are growing tootall or that they are unsafe because they are so top heavy. You should also consider if you feel like your trees are getting too close to other important items in your yard – electrical wires, poles, trees, or structures.

According to The Spruce, we do need to remember that there is a difference between pollarding and topping – pollarding is almost always done on younger trees.

Another thing to consider is that once you start to pollard a tree, you should keep up with it regularly. This doesn’t mean that you will have more maintenance for your trees, but typically we do this when you need it for space or safety reasons. Sometimes, it will be part of landscape design, but that isn’t as common.

Pollarding needs to happen every couple years to every five years or so. A tree care professional will be able to tell you how often you should pollard your tree.

Whether you have one tree, many trees, or somewhere in between, pollarding is a pruning technique that you should consider. However, you do not want to do this by yourself. Instead, you want to contact a tree care professional who can do it for you – and do it the right way. If it is done incorrectly, you could put your trees in danger.

Coppicing is a traditional method of woodland management which exploits the capacity of many species of trees to put out new shoots from their stump or roots if cut down. In a coppiced wood, which is called a copse, young tree stems are repeatedly cut down to near ground level, resulting in a stool.

Coppicing trees requires a leap of faith for the average gardener. You have to be prepared to cut plants back hard – right to the ground. It seems like harsh treatment. So why do it?


One of the key by-products is that your tree or shrub is guaranteed to respond with vigorous new growth. This allows you to manipulate its shape and size more easily. Depending on the plant, it may also stimulate vibrantly coloured new stems
and dramatic foliage effects. 
Coppiced trees also increase in breadth to provide good screening; and they can be treated like shrubs and used in borders with perennials and ground cover planting. Generally the advice is to coppice in late winter or early spring. But there’s always time to learn about the art of coppicing and prepare for the moment you start.

As well as the ornamental benefits, coppicing can be a practical solution for managing a large established tree in a small garden. For example, if you have a tree near a house on clay soil, coppicing will slow down root-growth and help to manage the threat of subsidence. Complete removal of a big tree could have far more serious consequences. Tony Kirkham, head of arboriculture at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, advises: “If a tree is in danger of becoming too big for its location, you are better off managing it rather than removing it completely. You can grow it to a size that fits in with your garden and that you can deal with.”

Coppicing exploits the natural growth pattern of trees: if the main stem has been cut or has fallen, it will send up shoots in a bid to survive. Essentially, if the root system has been used to feeding a large tree, it will put its energy into producing new growth and foliage.

Once an essential part of woodland management, coppiced trees were vital to the ancient economy, providing fuel, building and fencing materials. Today, conservationists are bringing back coppicing to increase biodiversity – cutting trees back opens up woodland, letting in light and encouraging a wider range of plants and wildlife. In the past, sweet chestnut and hornbeam were the commonly grown for coppicing. But most trees will respond positively to a ‘brutal’ chop – as long as the tree is well established and has not been grafted. The size and style of our gardens usually restricts our choice of trees. While plenty of smaller trees are prized for their bark, flowers and autumn foliage, larger-growing species are often left out of the equation. However, by managing trees and large shrubs as coppiced specimens, you can open up a whole new world of choice and ornamental potential.

Curator's note: The arboretum has experimented with Pollarding utilizing this method on "rescue trees". Coppicing is performed on Dogwoods "Cornus sericea" on a regular basis.

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