What's the difference between tree trimming and pruning?

December 8, 2014

While most people use the two terms interchangeably, they don't mean the same thing. So what exactly is the difference between trimming and pruning a tree?
In general, the terms trimming and pruning simply refer to cutting away branches from a tree or shrub. What's more, there are numerous motivations to prune or trim a tree. For example:


  • Branches that are growing in the direction of electric utility wires, or other structures including your garage, home and swimming pool, must be cut back.

Tree health

  • Dead, broken, or rotting branches due to fungal contamination or insect infestation need to be removed.

Improve appearance

  • An overly bushy tree loses a lot of the energy needed to adequately feed its branches, some of which may die as a result.
  • Thinning allows you to re-shape the tree, change its directional growth, while maximizing energy and diverting it to the right places.

Trimming or pruning?

Although they seem subtle, there are big differences between the two methods.

  • According to Canadian forestry terminology,pruningmeans removing unnecessary branches and even roots. The term is not limited only to tree maintenance.


  • Trimmingis often used for commercial needs.
  • At nurseries, trimming is done to promote healthy tree growth. Lower branches are removed from the trunk to discourage animals from browsing and eating them.
  • Mostly preoccupied with removing green shoots to encourage healthier overall foliage, trimming is done to improve the appearance of the tree.

Everyone has their own definition...

  • Since the terms trimming and pruning are often synonymous and can be virtually interchangeable in a tree conversation, be clear about what you want to achieve in terms of results when contacting an expert arborist.
  • In contrast, many consider pruning strictly for maintaining the health and safety of the plant; while trimming is reserved for correcting its appearance, either in terms of symmetry or to create a more prolific tree with denser foliage.
  • In other instances, pruning is said to be reserved just for mature trees; while trimming is for thickets, fruit trees, hedges and shrubs.

Familiarize yourself with the services being offered

  • Maintenance of the crown: Removing dead or diseased branches at the top.
  • Thinning: Removing branches to allow light to permeate and to stimulate growth and openness.
  • Crown lifting: Enhancing the crown by removing low-lying branches along the trunk, or removing them because they are dangerous.
  • Topping: Reducing the size of the tree (height, width or both). This technique allows for a greater clearance area at the base of the tree, and also decreases shade on the property.
  • Heading back cut: Strengthens the plant or tree, and gives it more density.

Whether you choose to "trim" or "prune" a tree, keeping it healthy means knowing when and how to maintain it. Treat your trees with TLC, and in return they'll provide you with shade and beauty for a very long time.

What's the difference between tree trimming and pruning?
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