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The Difference Between Lopping and Pruning Your Trees

Tropical palm trees on the beach, at sunset with pastel colors

For many people, including those that have trees on their properties, lopping and pruning are two words that are interchangeable and both mean to cut bit off of trees and plants.  In actuality there is a very clear difference between the two and if you are seeking the services of a professional arborist then you need to understand exactly what services they are offering and what it is you are asking to be done.  Of course any professional will discuss the work that they intend to do in depth before reaching for a sharp implement, but assumption is the basis of miscommunication, so let’s ensure that everyone understands the differences involved with these two terms, before any trees are cut excessively.

Pruning – it’s like exfoliating

We’ll start with pruning as it is the least extreme of the two terms.  When we seek to prune a tree we are looking at how the tree is growing and deciding where we want to encourage this growth.  This is done by selectively removing small, healthy  branches so that a greater number of leaves and new branches will shoot and grow in their place.  Pruning also examines the older branches on the tree to see if any of them are broken, dying or dead as these types of branches need to be removed.  Any of these types of branch are likely robbing the parts of a the tree that are healthy of essential nutrients that allow it to grow strongly.  Now they probably won’t be doing serious damage, but besides looking unsightly, damaged and dead branches will cause growth issues in the future if not removed.  In nature this is not a problem as the branches will eventually fall off naturally, but in a managed environment this process takes far too long and poses a potential danger to people and structures nearby.

Pruning boils down to small acts of removal with the goal of tidying up the tree and encouraging growth in the direction desired, similarly to exfoliating ones skin to remove all of the dead cells and encourage regeneration.

Lopping – it’s more like surgery

If pruning is making small and precise removals, the lopping is about larger and more drastic removals.  Whereas pruning usually requires small hand tools and maybe a saw at the most, lopping often utilises a chainsaw to remove larger parts of the tree.  This is done to remove sections of larger trees that are growing too close to buildings or structures to protect them from damage or to otherwise drastically adjust the tree to better suit the your environment.  It is also significantly more dangerous, which is why only a qualified tree lopper should undertake the task of lopping as not only is injury common, but so is collateral damage from the lopping not being carried out correctly.

Lopping is the arborist’s equivalent of performing major surgery and will result in significantly modifying the shape and size of a tree.

Hopefully this makes these terms clearer and if you need work performed on a tree, you will have a better understand of what to ask for when consulting the professionals.

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