I've been searching for trees to plant on the side of a road in zone 10. Most of the trees I like have mature heights and widths way larger than what I'd like.

So in general, can all large trees be pruned to your desired size or is this question one that can only be answered for specific species? An answer at the genus or family level will be useful as well. Anything that will help me shorten the time I need to spend on each candidate to answer that question will be of help.

  • 2
    The short answer is no - some trees get 80 to 100 feet, and many trees do not respond well to frequent pruning; it ruins the shape and encourages the production of epicormic and water shoots. Be easier to answer if you named some of the trees you're interested in, or alternatively, restrict your search to small trees There is an exception - Eucalyptus gunnii, but you'll be pruning it 5 or 6 times during a single growing season each year as a minimum. – Bamboo Mar 12 '18 at 20:10
  • What is it about the trees you like that attracts your attention? Proper pruning means not only professional pruning but continuous pruning. Lots and lots and lots of work. Pollarded trees aren't very pretty in my opinion. What are the trees you like? Have you seen columnar trees such as the Italian Aspen? Gotta go look up the name: Populus tremuloides something.... – stormy Mar 12 '18 at 21:14
  • No, you are zone 10. I wasn't thinking of Populus nigra 'Italica' I was thinking of the columnar Quaking Aspen but not for your zone. What kind of road? Driveway? Highway? What about the size of the trees that you like that won't work and why? – stormy Mar 12 '18 at 21:31
  • @Bamboo please make an answer. – bmargulies Mar 12 '18 at 23:39
  • @bmargulies - done – Bamboo Mar 13 '18 at 0:02

All plants, including large trees, can be pruned to a desired size and shape.

There are a variety of pruning rules to follow, depending on genus & species.

However the question perhaps you should ask first is how much time you have available or want to make available to prune your proposed street trees and how much space you have available to process the cut material, or are you prepared to pay an arborist to complete these tasks for you every year?

Also worth considering, is that you may eventually move away from your current location... are subsequent property owners or the local government municipality prepared to prune the trees as diligently as you?

With such a large variety of tree genus and species from which to select, I’d personally recommend choosing plants that will grow to a mature size & shape that match your requirements.

  • If I may add: how well will the tree endure frequent severe pruning? can you endure seeing the aftermath and lengthy recovery periods? – herb guy Mar 12 '18 at 20:57
  • Your answer made me realize that possible and feasible are two very different things in this context. Although I didn't include that in my question, but that is certainly an important consideration. Thanks for pointing those out. When I get a change I'll make a new question with details of the space I have and what I'm trying to achieve. Maybe you guys can help me select a tree that'll work. – rgarc101 Mar 13 '18 at 0:38
  • @herbguy in my experience, large tree pruning would need to be completed annually. So long as the trees were allowed time to mature before annual pruning commenced and if pruning was timed to suit the particular growing patterns of each tree and the proper pruning methods were followed, the trees should actually thrive. – andrewbuilder Mar 13 '18 at 2:30
  • @rgarc101 I’m sure there will be plenty of suggestions for trees that might be suitable. If, in your new question, you could include a short description of what you like about the larger trees, that will help us all make more appropriate suggestions. Also, if possible, a couple of photos of your space might be helpful. While you mention you are in Zone 10, it might also be worth noting whether there any unusual local weather conditions, such as particularly humid summers. – andrewbuilder Mar 13 '18 at 2:37
  • @andrewbuilder There’s not much “maturing” occurring in a one year pruning cycle, by your approach many if not most ornamental species will have barely healed before they’re cut again. In my experience there’s far too many chainsaw operators pedaling plastic surgery to clueless customers. No, not all plants, including trees can or should be pruned. – herb guy Mar 13 '18 at 3:28

Pollarding, a pruning system involving the removal of the upper branches of a tree, promotes a dense head of foliage and branches. In ancient Rome, Propertiusmentioned pollarding during the 1st century BCE.[1] The practice has occurred commonly in Europe since medieval times and takes place today in urban areas worldwide, primarily to maintain trees at a predetermined height.

One consequence of pollarding is that pollarded trees tend to live longer than unpollarded specimens because they are maintained in a partially juvenile state and because they do not have the weight and windage of the top part of the tree



The short answer is no. Some trees get to 80 or 100 feet, and many trees do not respond well to frequent pruning; it ruins the shape and encourages the production of epicormic and water shoots. The obvious exception is Eucalyptus gunnii, but you will need to prune that at least half a dozen times during the growing season; this tree is subject to strong apical domination, and if you do not keep up with keeping it trimmed back, it will reach 55 to 60 feet quite rapidly.

Pollarding is an option for medium sized trees, but pollarded trees tend to look pretty unattractive for a good while after that's been carried out.

If you have particular trees in mind and you name them, you might get a more tailored answer for each variety, but under the rule of 'right place, right plant', I strongly suggest you select from the range of small trees which are available instead. Lagerstroemeria indica (crape myrtle) grows well in your zone, and comes in a range of heights, see chart here https://aggie-horticulture.tamu.edu/databases/crapemyrtle/crape_myrtle_varieties_byheight.html

  • Thanks for advice. Now I see that 'right place, right plant' is the golden rule here. Finding the 'right' plant is a little daunting, though. I guess part of the issue is not just finding one that will work, but accepting that you may select one without even considering 100 other candidates that could have been much better. I have a lot of reading to do before I plant anything. – rgarc101 Mar 13 '18 at 0:45

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