Understanding Tree Pruning Terminology for Homeowners

Tree pruning terminology can be confusing at times. In this article, Top Notch Tree, your trusted tree trimming service in Rockland, MA, explains more about the terms we use for general pruning techniques.

tree pruning terminology

Branch Bark Ridge

This is where the branch meets the trunk. We may cut the limb as close to here as possible if it dies.

Branch Collar

This is the tissue that forms around the base of the branch bark ridge. It forms a collar around the branch and becomes more pronounced as the branch starts to wither.


This is the tree’s form of a scab. The cambium layer thickens over a wound to seal it off and protect the tree.

Dead Wooding

With dead wooding, you remove an unhealthy or dead branch for the tree’s health. Arborists may also remove branches that fail to thrive.

Drop Crotch Pruning

This technique refers to cutting back a leader or lateral branch by at least a third or half the diameter of the cut. This is a useful thinning technique.

Heading Back

With this technique, we take off a limb directly above the lateral bud. The reason we do this is to stimulate growth and enhance the natural shape of the tree. We often do this to fill in sparse areas of vegetation, but it’s crucial to monitor the new growth so it isn’t crowded.

Lateral Branches

In tree pruning terminology, lateral branches refer to secondary limbs. They grow out of scaffold branches and form an important function in filling out the foliage.


The leader is a vertical branch that’s responsible for new growth. Pruning these branches too much can kill mature trees, so use this technique with care.


We pinch the ends of branches while they’re growing to encourage better flowering or more leaf buds. This works on any growing limbs from the lowest branches to the top of the canopy. 

Scaffold Branches

Scaffold branches are the primary limbs that attach directly to the trunk. We may cut these closest to ground level if you need better clearance under the tree. Otherwise, we try to keep these intact. 

Thinning Cuts 

Thinning cuts clear crowding and improve airflow throughout the tree. We either remove the branches where they bud out or pinch the leaders. Not only does this improve airflow, but it also allows more sunlight through to the bark.

Topping Off

Topping off is a practice that we generally recommend against. Some people use this technique when a tree is growing too tall. The problem with this technique is that it can significantly damage the tree. 

We don’t use this technique because it will likely kill the tree. Instead, we suggest that people carefully select the tree species to make sure that it’s ideal for the space. 

Contact Us for Professional Advice 

Now that you know more about tree pruning terminology, you may want to learn about the best time to trim trees. For this advice and more, contact Top Notch Tree at (781) 871-8008.

Get A Free Estimate

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.


Contact Us Today for More Info!

(888) 441 TREE

Call Now Button