How to prune a liquidambar tree

Pruning – Liquidambar

Pruning a Liquidambar tree can be an enjoyable experience when done correctly, but it can also be a daunting task for homeowners and gardeners. I am excited to share my knowledge with you in this comprehensive pruning guide from planting to maturity.

Selecting the right tree for the right space

Selecting the right Liquidambar tree for your space is the first step in ensuring a healthy and beautiful tree. It is essential to choose a species that is suitable for your climate and soil type. Liquidambar trees thrive in well-draining soil with a pH of 5.5 to 6.5 and prefer full sun or partial shade. It is crucial to consider the tree’s mature height and width before planting it to avoid future problems.

Planting your Liquidambar

Planting your Liquidambar tree correctly is crucial to its long-term health and survival. The best time to plant your tree is in late winter or early spring, before new growth starts. You should dig a hole that is twice as wide and deep as the root ball and backfill it with a mixture of soil and organic matter. It is essential to water your tree regularly during the first year after planting.

Formative pruning

Formative pruning is the process of training a young tree’s growth pattern to create a structurally sound and aesthetically pleasing tree. The best time to perform formative pruning is during the first three years after planting. The goal of formative pruning is to remove any crossing, rubbing, or damaged branches and create a central leader. This will ensure that the tree has a strong framework for future growth.

When is the right time to prune?

The best time to prune a Liquidambar tree is during the dormant season, between late fall and early spring. Pruning during this period promotes fast and healthy regrowth in the spring. Pruning during the growing season can lead to stunted growth and may leave the tree susceptible to pests and diseases.

Correct pruning technique

Using the correct pruning technique is essential to ensure a clean and professional cut that promotes healthy regrowth. It is crucial to use sharp and clean pruning tools and make a cut just outside the branch collar. The branch collar is the swollen area at the base of the branch, and it contains specialized cells that help the tree heal the wound.


Uplifting is the process of removing the lower branches of a tree to increase the clearance between the ground and the canopy. This process can improve visibility, increase airflow, and make it easier to maintain the tree. It is essential to avoid removing too many lower branches, as this can leave the tree top-heavy and susceptible to wind damage.

Setting the right structure

Setting the right structure is essential to ensure a healthy and beautiful Liquidambar tree. The tree should have a central leader and a balanced canopy with evenly spaced branches. The goal of setting the right structure is to create a tree that can withstand wind and storms without breaking.

Setting the right shape

Setting the right shape is essential to ensure an aesthetically pleasing Liquidambar tree. The tree should have a natural and balanced shape that complements the surrounding landscape. It is essential to avoid over-pruning or shaping the tree into an unnatural form, as this can weaken the tree and make it more susceptible to pests and diseases.

Pruning vs. tree lopping

These are two different techniques that produce vastly different results. Pruning is the process of selectively removing branches to promote healthy growth and maintain the tree’s structure and shape. Tree lopping, on the other hand, is the process of indiscriminately removing large branches or even the entire canopy, leaving the tree vulnerable to disease and insect infestations. Tree lopping can also cause the tree to grow back in a weakened state and can be hazardous to both the tree and surrounding structures.

Pruning for health

Pruning for health is a crucial aspect of maintaining a healthy Liquidambar tree. Regular pruning can remove diseased or damaged branches, improve air circulation, and increase sunlight penetration, which can all contribute to the tree’s overall health. It is essential to remove any branches that are crossing, rubbing, or growing in a way that may damage the tree’s structure.

How often do I prune the tree?

The frequency of pruning a Liquidambar tree depends on several factors, including its age, growth rate, and location. Young trees may require annual pruning to shape their growth and maintain their structure, while mature trees may only need pruning every few years to remove dead or diseased branches. It is important to observe the tree’s growth patterns and prune it as needed to ensure its health and longevity.

Common mistakes

One common mistake that homeowners and gardeners make when pruning a Liquidambar tree is removing too many branches or making improper cuts. This can weaken the tree and leave it vulnerable to pests and disease. Another common mistake is neglecting to prune the tree at all, which can result in an overgrown and unbalanced tree that is difficult to maintain.

When to use an arborist

While many pruning tasks can be done by homeowners and gardeners, there are instances when it is best to call in a professional arborist. If the tree is large or located near power lines, it is best to hire an arborist to ensure that the tree is pruned safely and correctly. Additionally, if the tree requires extensive pruning or is exhibiting signs of disease or stress, an arborist can provide expert guidance and care.

When to deadwood the tree

Deadwood pruning is the process of removing dead or dying branches from a tree. This type of pruning is essential for maintaining the tree’s health and preventing the spread of disease. Deadwood pruning can be done at any time of the year, but it is best to do it during the dormant season to minimize stress on the tree.

Tools for all pruning types

The right tools are essential for successful pruning, whether you are performing formative pruning or removing large branches. Some essential tools for pruning a Liquidambar tree include hand pruners, loppers, pruning saws, and pole pruners. It is important to use sharp and clean tools to ensure clean and professional cuts.

Why to avoid tree topping

Tree topping is a harmful and destructive pruning technique that involves removing large portions of the tree’s canopy. Tree topping can weaken the tree and make it more susceptible to disease and pests. It can also result in rapid regrowth of weak branches that are more likely to break in the future.

Why to avoid flush cutting

Flush cutting is the process of making a cut flush with the tree’s trunk or parent branch. This type of cut can damage the branch collar and prevent the tree from healing the wound. It is essential to make cuts just outside the branch collar to ensure proper healing and to prevent future damage to the tree.

10-item pruning checklist:
  1. Select the right Liquidambar tree for your space
  2. Plant your tree in late winter or early spring
  3. Perform formative pruning during the first three years after planting
  4. Prune during the dormant season
  5. Use sharp and clean pruning tools
  6. Uplift the tree to increase clearance between the ground and the canopy
  7. Set the right structure and shape for the tree
  8. Avoid tree lopping and flush cutting
  9. Prune for health regularly
  10. Call in an arborist when it gets too hard or dangerous to do yourself
Interesting facts about Liquidambar
  1. The Liquidambar tree is also known as the Sweetgum tree due to its fragrant sap, which has been used to make chewing gum.
  2. The Liquidambar tree is native to the southeastern United States and can grow up to 100 feet tall.
  3. Liquidambar leaves turn brilliant shades of red, orange, and yellow in the fall, making it a popular ornamental tree.
Links for further reading:
  1. International Society of Arboriculture (ISA) – Pruning Young Trees:
  2. The Morton Arboretum – Pruning Trees and Shrubs:
  3. Australian Arborist – The Importance of Pruning Trees:
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