The Practice of Tree Canopy Management in Residential Tree Care

Many leading tree service companies, like Ross Tree Company, embrace Tree Canopy Management because of its holistic approach to tree pruning and tree health care. Trees grow well in the forest without any human intervention. In contrast, city trees require a higher level of care to maintain their structural integrity and ambiance. Pruning is the most common tree maintenance activity. Certified arborists perform tree trimming with a good understanding of tree biology. Tree canopy management orientated from the fruit tree industry. Fruit growers manage their canopies to grow healthy trees that produce quality fruit and support heavy crop loads. City foresters use similar practices to create shade, maintain tree health, promote species diversity, and lower long term maintenance costs of the trees inside their jurisdiction. The concept holds whether the trees are in a yard, along a street, or across a city.

According to an article in the 5280 Magazine, Downtown Denver is getting serious about managing its tree canopy. Denver’s trees only shade four percent of the downtown area, which compares to 14 percent in San Francisco. Since more people live in the City, they want more shade. The desire for more cover demonstrates the power of the Tree Canopy Management concept. Denver’s goal is to improve its tree canopy rather than on the needs of individual trees. Trees do not grow well in Downtown because most tree pits are too small. Denver, with the help of the Downtown Denver Partnership, plans to expand the tree pits’ size to improve growing conditions. Additionally, the Denver Parks and Recreation Department plans to plant 100 trees this year to add more trees to the urban forest canopy. So, to create more shade, the City is expanding its canopy by planting more trees and improving the health of existing trees.

What Are the Benefits of Tree Canopy Management?

  • Training a newly planted tree is like training a dog – it is much easier to train a puppy than an older dog. So, the sooner you start training young trees, the better.
  • Proper pruning of a young tree forms a dominant leader, ensuring sound tree structure and better health over the tree’s lifespan.
  • Training young trees avoid the higher cost of removing larger limbs as the tree grows larger and taller.
  • Trees managed properly are less susceptible to disease, insect infestations, and mechanical breakage.

Tree Canopy Management brings the same holistic tree care approach to property owners with trees. To formulate a Tree Canopy Management plan, one of our arborists asks the owner what result they want to achieve with their yard trees. A person with a great mountain view will have different needs compared to someone wanting shade. The arborist conducts the following survey  to gauge tree health and the ability of the tree landscape to meet the needs of the property owner:

  • Identify any tree diseases or insect infestations.
  • Survey all Ash trees on the property. Treat mature high-value Ash for Emerald Ash Borer while removing any marginal trees.
  • Check all Apple and Pear trees on the property for Fire Blight. If found, propose a Fire Blight treatment plan.
  • Inspect the yard tree insect ecosystem. Many tree insects are benign or beneficial, so control destructive tree insects on a need basis.
  • Fertilize the trees to promote robust root systems and drought-resistant.
  • Cut back high nitrogen fertilizers and water to limit excessive tree growth and the need for tree trimming.
  • Identify and remove any risk factors in trees such as hanging tree branches, squirrel kill, deadwood, or storm damage.
  • Plant trees that thrive in Denver’s dry climate and soils.
  • Prune trees to form central leaders.
  • Subsequent pruning encourages strong structure and form, which makes the trees more resistant to storm damage.
  • Adjust the tree landscape to make room for new home additions, pools, porches, and other future construction projects.
  • Remove trash trees or trees in decline.
  • Most trees require five prunings throughout their lifespan.

Once completed, the customer receives a Tree Canopy Management plan for their property. The arborist identifies any pruning or plant health care issues that need immediate attention. Additional tree services are made upon request to address unexpected events like storm damage or a sudden tree insect infestation.


Understand the Biology of Tree Growth

Understanding how trees grow and the age of the wood are essential concepts in Tree Canopy Management. Tree grow two ways. Primary growth comes from the production of undifferentiated cells (meristem) that push out lengthening the branch. Secondary growth is the thickening of branches. At the end of the season, trees go dormant, terminal buds set up at the end of that season’s growth, and become one-year-old wood. Each tree species has its growth tendencies and shapes, such as round, spreading, pyramidal, oval, vase, conical, columnar, open, and irregular. Each form draws the eye in a different way creating a visual effect.

  • Columnar, pyramidal, and oval tree forms draw the eye upward.
  • Tall vase shape and spreading trees emphasize breadth and space. The underneath area draws the eye.
  • Weeping draws eyes toward the ground and used to emphasize a water or garden feature.
  • Short round trees draw the eye to the yard feature without dominating the space. They become focal points because of their pleasing shapes, which please the eye.

When it comes to texture, tree choices range from super dense to light and airy. Arborists consider these growth, form, and texture traits as they train and prune trees over time to achieve the desire canopy outcome.

apical dominance in trees


Apical Dominance

Apical dominance is when the central stem of a tree grows more strongly compared to other side stems. The same occurs on branches with the main limb dominating its side twigs. In young trees, the center terminal bud grows straight up and becomes the central leader. The leader releases an inhibitory hormone called Auxin that slows the growth of adjacent buds. The tip of the trunk outgrows the other branches in the tree. Fruit orchards use apical dominance to train trees by manipulating or bending the lateral branches to alter the flow of Auxin to obtain a central leader without cutting.

trimming young trees


Pruning Types

Cutting off a branch is forever, so any pruning needs to be well thought out. Trees pruning removes dead branches, improves form, and reduces the risk of falling limbs. Additionally, more light and air penetrates the interior of a tree, or to the yard below. Below are pruning types:

  • Cleaning removes dead, dying, or diseased wood. Cutting out low-vigor and crossing branches from the crown opens up the tree to light and air.
  • Raising removes the lower branches from a tree to provide clearance for buildings, vehicles, pedestrians, and lawns.
  • Thinning cuts a shoot at the point of origin and slows growth. Proper thinning opens the foliage of a tree, reduces weight, and helps retain the tree’s natural shape. Thinning allows in more sunshine to promote photosynthesis.
  • Heading cuts out one year wood to destroy apical dominance and invigorate local growth. Trained arborists use heading cuts sparingly.


Pruning Young Trees

Tree Canopy Management starts with the pruning of newly planted trees. Arborist train trees to encourage the growth of a central leader with strong lateral branches. Young trees with a strong leader require less corrective pruning as they mature. A sign of effective Tree Canopy Management is young trees need little corrective pruning as they grow taller. Subsequent pruning removes no more than 30 percent of the tree at one time. Correct young tree pruning results in a healthy tree able to withstand Denver’s unpredictable weather and snowstorms.

For a Tree Canopy Management consultation by an ISA Certified Arborist, please call 303-871-9121‬, or fill out a tree service request form.