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What is Tree Shaping and Is It Good for My Tree?

Tree Shaping

What Is Tree Shaping?

Conventionally speaking, tree shaping is a way to help your trees reach their full potential—growing healthfully—so they can have a robust aesthetic. By trimming and pruning your trees at the right time, they can be encouraged to grow in certain directions, and in doing so, the crown of the tree can appear fuller, thicker, and healthier. The health of trees is immensely important, and some trimming and pruning techniques will focus on restorative properties so any dead, sick, or overgrown bits can be cut away.Tree Shaping

There are additional forms of tree shaping that take the concept to another level, including the swirled spirals of picturesque tree paintings—the ones with trees lining lavender fields. Or even trees guided and grown to appear as furniture or other common objects. Imagine a tree that has been shaped into something that resembles a dancing bear or other animal, and that can help illustrate the other possible side of tree shaping.

Some estates will encourage the growth of trees in specific forms, including keeping lined trees from protruding out across a walkway so it almost seems like the pathway is “cut” into the trees. Some trees will be grown into a lattice shape, with crisscrossing arms and leaves, enabling their structure to work as a physical barrier such as fencing in a yard or garden.

A History of Tree Shaping

Some tree species have a natural inclination to display a unique botanical process called inosculation (also sometimes called self-grafting), where parts of a single tree (or several trees) will bind and grow across or into parts of another tree of the same (or closely related) species. Trees that do this are called inosculate trees.

There are some examples around the world of hanging roots that are brought together to form infrastructure, such as the living root bridges in northeast India. These suspension bridges use the hanging roots from the banyan fig trees. As the trees were growing, the roots were woven together with sticks and twigs, plus other items such as stones, so that they grew and filled in the gaps. Ultimately, the roots were brought across a small ravine and connected to the roots of fig and rubber trees on the other side.

A practice that started in Southwest Asia yet made its way to Europe included using living trees as garden homes. Perhaps this was the advent of treehouses?

Another practice called pleaching started in Europe as a way to create a horizontal hedge. Toward the end of the medieval period in Europe and into the 1700s, there was the practice of pleaching canopies by interweaving the canopies of tree-lined gardens and walkways.

Various Forms of Tree Shaping

Coppicing and Pollarding

These pruning techniques work on various trees in order to create aesthetically pleasing effects ranging from colorful stems to great, big foliage. Any gardener can use these techniques to shape their trees and create a visually appealing landscape on their property.

Coppicing is a way of guaranteeing that the stems coming from the tree grow strong and straight, which makes for an easy way to source fencing or building materials or even stems or branches that would work well for fuel. The process involves taking the stems and cutting them down to the ground. This part of the woodland craft will make trees grow robust new stems.

Pollarding is much like coppicing, but instead of cutting the stems all the way down to the ground, the stems are cut down to the stump of the tree. A saw can be used to cut off the unwanted branches after you’ve chosen a specific height for the tree trunk. The new stems grow out from this point of the stump and can be cut back periodically, such as each year or every couple of years.


Trees that are trained to grow up a flat structure, such as a trellis or wall, will continue this upwards movement, and this can make for a nice decorative effect. In fruit-bearing trees, this can be a great technique to encourage a heartier production of fruits since the trees will be exposed to longer-lasting bouts of sunlight, which increases yields for a maximum harvest. Plus, with the design component taken into consideration, the espalier technique makes it easier to access the fruit during harvest.


As mentioned above, this technique has a lot to do with guiding and weaving branches that are close together in order to create a denser mass of the plant or tree. As individual branches are woven together, they thicken and harden, which is both good for protecting the tree and can be a useful technique for keeping animals at bay. The aesthetic is a bit like a knit piece. You can see the individual bits of the branch, root, or other parts of the tree, but you’re also able to witness the overall structure.


This technique commands some patience and time. It takes a tree and its branches and the will to gradually form them into whatever is desired. The growing stems can be cut or worked together in the branch. The new growth can be structured to follow a wire guide and then the graft can bond over the course of time. This will continue until the desired shape is achieved.


While it’s not quite tree shaping like the forms listed above, tree shaping now can be considered to include some hedge trimming into distinct designs and shapes, such as spirals or animals.


Bonsai are a miniature form of tree shaping that requires great care and attention. There are special pruning techniques that allow this mini tree to mimic the way a mature one would look.

Is It Good for My Tree?

The answer to this question depends on the methods and techniques used to manipulate the growth and expansion of the tree and its branches. If you would like support from the professionals, call Vernon Imel Tree Service for a consultation.