Right and Wrong Way to Prune a Tree near a Home

Tree pruning close to a house.

DeVos Tree Care gets asked “What is the best strategy for tree pruning in this above image?” often.

Let’s start with what we do know.  We know we want to keep the tree.  Not only that but we want to keep the tree healthyAt the same time, it’s proximity to the house/cars/garage/etc. is causing problems.  Squirrels jumping onto the roof, the shingles are getting damaged because the tree casts lots of shade, poor water drainage away from house because gutters are filling with leaves.  And of course, we want to keep our home and our family safe. 

So back to the original question, how do we keep the tree healthy but also relieve some of the concerns associated with the tree?

Before we jump into the right way to do it.  Let’s start with the wrong way to do it.  

Option #1

Prune a straight vertical line before the house so there are no branches overhanging.

This will certainly clear branches off the roof but as time passes this will create a problem that will compound.

We fully understand the temptation for tree pruning in this way.  Especially if you have a particularly challenging tree near your home (cue the likes of black walnut and locust trees).  This form of pruning will exacerbate your already existing challenge.

This is what your tree could look like after tree pruning in years to come:

Wrong way to prune a tree over a house.

New branches will originate from the previously cut branch.  From that one branch that has been cut, 2, 3, 4, perhaps even more, branches will originate.  Many people refer to these branches as “sucker growth”.  It won’t take long before this sucker growth becomes incredibly thick similar to the image you see above.  

Not only will it create more leaves and debris overtop of your home but the branches will become very heavy and susceptible to breaking.

To avoid this, you could have it pruned regularly but this creates problems too.  The original cut made to the tree will not heal over well and could very likely welcome disease and rot into the branch.  It would be healthy for you and the tree, if the branch were cut all the way back to the trunk.  It is far more likely to properly heal.  

Case in point, if you look at the lower trunk of most trees you will see that there once was a branch, and rather than seeing exposed wood the tree, the tree engulfed the wound.  All that is left is a scar. If a branch is cut midway out then it is harder for this scar tissue to form.

This leads us to another wrong way to prune this tree:

Option #2

Cut all the branches that face the home but cut them back to the main trunk/stem.

Pruning too much off of tree over house.

There are advantages to this form of hard pruning for sure.  The tree often will sucker out less than in the aforementioned scenario.  Also, the previous issue of the parent branch becoming heavy is non issue here since the entire branch is removed.  

Two new problems are created in this scenario.  

a) What happens if the top of the tree breaks off?  

Newtons First Law.  “An object in motion will stay in motion unless acted on by an external force.”

If the top branch breaks and falls in the direction of the house, and if there is no external force to slow it down/stop it — the house will.

Alternatively, if the top branch broke but there were branches underneath it then the lower branches could either buffer or stop the fall from hitting the house.  

b)  This is a rather hard form of tree pruning.  The rule of thumb that most certified arborists abide by is that no more than 1/4 to 1/3 of a tree can be removed.  In this scenario, we are teetering at, or above this figure.  If the tree is already stressed or is advanced in age, we would recommend going even lower than the 1/4 mark.

This brings us to our final option.  

Option #3

The right way to prune a tree overtop of a house.

This is the best balance between safety for persons and property as well as long term health of the tree.  On top of that, the canopy in this scenario is far better balanced which in turn improves the aesthetic appeal of the tree and house.  If you want to improve the balance even more then you may want to consider removing one low branch on the left side of the tree, keeping in mind not to take off too much foliage from the tree.  

Every tree and every scenario is slightly different but hopefully through these illustrations you can still glean some general knowledge that can be carried into your unique situation.  These same general principles can be used in multiple scenarios.  Say for example, the tree in question actually is the neighbour tree but overhangs onto your house or your tree is adjacent to a pool. The scenarios are endless; that is what makes tree work so much fun.

Still stumped what to do?  Give us a call or fill out the form and we will be happy to help.

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