By Jon Morgenson, Horticulturist
I commonly encounter trees in our state parks that have had an offending low branch tipped back. I have no doubt that the reason for removing the branch tip was justified – I don’t enjoy being poked in the eye by a low branch any more than the next person. Remembering that point, I have a thought to pass along.
Tipping is the removal of the terminal end of a branch, at some random point without regard to where the pruning cut is made. Instead of removing an entire branch at its point of attachment to a larger branch or to the trunk of the tree, the low hanging portion is simply cut off at some convenient point that could be reached, as illustrated in the photo below.
If the branch tip to be removed can be followed back to a healthy side branch of
appropriate size (at least 1/3 the diameter of the branch to which it is
attached), that is growing in an acceptable direction; then the offending branch
tip could be pruned properly to that side branch. The photo below illustrates
the selection of an acceptable lateral branch.
Another choice, one that may be preferable, is to remove the branch entirely.
When a branch is tipped back, it stimulates dormant buds to grow and can result
in multiple shoots developing near the sight of the pruning cut (as illustrated
in the first photo, at top). There is a good chance that these new shoots will grow
back down into the space where the original offending branch tip was. Following
proper pruning practices to remove the low branch, at the point where it
attaches to the tree trunk, will result in an improved look compared to tipping
and the branch will not need to be tipped again at a later date saving time and