Trimming is essential to a tree’s wellbeing. But there is a limit as to how much of a tree’s branches you can trim off.

If you trim a tree too much, it will start showing signs of poor health. It may start developing water spouts, prolific epicormic shoots (suckers) on the trunk and branches, brown leaves, weak branches, and a dying trunk. It can even die.

Here is everything that you need to know about tree trimming, and what happens when you trim too much.

Can you trim too much of a tree?

Yes, you can trim too much of a tree.

As a general rule, you shouldn’t prune more than a third of the canopy of your tree. Any more and you will be over-pruning it.

Doing so is something that will definitely lead to poor tree health. This is because you will be denying the tree a major part of its food production system.

Can you trim too much of a tree

What happens if you trim too much of a tree?

The following is what will happen if you trim a tree too much.

It will start developing a lot of sprouts

This will happen because the tree will be in a rush to replenish the foliage. The resulting effect will be excessive sprouting.

It will grow weak branches

Trees typically take time to grow branches. But since over trimming tends to cause a drastic drop in food-making resources, the tree usually goes into emergency mode. It will try to build up its food production system as fast as possible. And unfortunately, this often leads to weak branches and leaves.

It will become infested by pests

Over-trimming creates a lot of open wounds. These wounds often serve as pest magnets. This is because wounded areas are devoid of any of the tree’s protective cover. Therefore, it shouldn’t be surprising for an over-trimmed tree to become infested.

It will become susceptible to tree infections and diseases

Over-trimming is stressful on a tree. It makes a tree less capable of defending against tree infections and diseases. As a result, the tree becomes vulnerable to attacks. And so an over-trimmed tree is likely to show signs of sickness.

It will die

In some cases, the tree may be unable to recover from the trauma of too much trimming. In such cases, the tree will simply die.

What should you do if your tree is trimmed too much?

Over pruning is bad for a tree. But this doesn’t mean that it is a mistake that is not fixable.

If you have an over-trimmed tree, here is what you should do.

Seek an expert’s advice

The first step is to consult a tree expert. The main goal of the consultation is to find out whether it is worth trying to rescue your tree.

Some trees can easily survive extreme pruning. Others can’t. And the chances of survivability also depend on the degree of over-pruning.

These are things that an ISA-certified arborist will be able to know. And so based on your tree’s condition, they can tell you whether a health restoration project is worth the time and effort.

Water the tree

As the tree is trying all it can to recover from the trauma of over-trimming, it will need all the help that it can get. And since moisture is essential to the recovery and healing process, watering it will really help to improve its odds of surviving.

Provide it with sufficient nutrients through fertilization

Nutrients provide the building blocks for new tissue. They also help to strengthen a tree’s immune system.

Therefore, providing it with all the nutrients that it needs will not only help in its defense against pests and infections, but also speed up the recovery process.

Thin the tree where necessary

As the tree regains its strength, you will eventually have to thin it out. This is because while the water shoots may have been essential to the tree’s initial survival, leaving them in place will lead to an uneven and weak canopy.

Thinning allows you to get rid of these weak growths. And with time, it will help to establish a strong canopy.

Given that over-pruning is traumatic to a tree, the steps that you take to help it recover from this trauma will play a significant role in determining whether it will survive the experience. And taking the above steps will go a long way in improving the chances of survival.

What other trimming mistakes should you avoid?

When pruning, there are things that you should avoid doing if you want to ensure that you don’t harm your tree.

What other trimming mistakes should you avoid

You should avoid trimming at the wrong time

Trimming adds stress. Therefore, you should time your trimming in such a way that the tree incurs the least damage. You should also ensure that you give the tree enough time to recover.

Therefore, you shouldn’t trim your tree during summer. This is because it is the season in which the tree has the most foliage. And also, after trimming, the tree won’t have enough time to recover as the stressful seasons will be just around the corner.

Using dirty pruning equipment

When you trim a tree’s branches off, you are literally creating open wounds. Therefore, if you are using dirty equipment to do this, the chances of these wounds developing an infection will be high.

Pruning during the warmer months

Some areas are prone to diseases like Dutch elm and oak wilt. These diseases can easily spread from tree to tree, especially during the warmer months.

Therefore, if you live in such areas, it will be a bad idea to trim your tree in the warmer months as it will make them more susceptible to disease attacks.

Making bad cuts

Bad pruning cuts create unnecessary wounds. They expose the tree to unnecessary injury. And they also increase the likelihood of infections and pest attacks.

Therefore, when pruning your tree, you should avoid making:

  • stub cuts
  • heading cuts, or
  • flush cuts


You can cut off up to 33% of a tree’s canopy without killing it.

Trim any more of the tree’s foliage past this point and you risk inflicting damage that the tree may find hard to recover from. As a result, it is always advisable that you only trim about 1/4th of a tree’s canopy.

Topping has a detrimental effect on a tree’s wellbeing.

Here are the main effects of tree topping.

What happens when you top a tree

  • Water sprouts development

This is because topping eliminates a large chunk of the food-producing part of the tree. To compensate, the tree will develop weak shoots that are referred to as water sprouts.

  • Increased risk of damage

Since the new branches and leaves are being generated while the tree is under stress, they are generally weak. This makes it easy for these branches and leaves to break during extreme weather.

  • Loss of aesthetic appeal

Topping a tree leaves behind an ugly shadow of the tree’s initial appeal.
It leads to the development of random patches of weak branches, stems, and leaves. It also robs it of a majestic canopy. All of these things add up to a less appealing sight.

  • Increased incidences of disease and pest attacks

Topping creates significant tree wounds. These wounds are attractive to pests. They are also susceptible to rotting. And they can also serve as entry points for diseases.

Therefore, after topping your tree, you shouldn’t be surprised if it becomes infested with pests or if it becomes disease-ridden.

A tree can continue to grow if you cut its top off. However, whether it can survive such a traumatic event largely depends on the species of the tree and the tree care steps that you take right after.

What this means is that a tree can easily die from cutting off its top. This is one of the main reasons why this is a practice that is generally discouraged.

The easiest way to avoid trimming too much of a tree, and the surest way to guarantee that a harmed tree will recover, is to rely on the expertise, knowledge, and experience of tree experts. offers a free service that quickly matches you with the top-voted local experts in your area.

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Ben McInerney
Author: Ben McInerney - Ben is a qualified arborist with 15 plus years of industry experience in Arboriculture. He ran a successful tree service before turning to writing and publishing. Ben is dedicated to providing users with the most accurate up-to-date information on everything trees.