Final image of a tree after pruning (lifting and crown reduction) of a beech in a park garden.

Pruning beech. Guide with the how and why


Pruning a beech tree or beech: complete guide to correct pruning


The beech (Fagus sylvatica) or beech tree is a majestic deciduous tree known for its stately appearance and dense canopy. Although beech trees require relatively little pruning, occasional grooming is essential to promote their healthy growth and ensure their safety. And even with overhanging branches or top-heavy branches, it is important to prune the beech correctly.

In this guide, in addition to the correct approach to pruning a beech, we also discuss the technique of climbing pruning. In addition, we will also explore the physiology of the beech tree so that we understand how pruning can affect the tree.

And because we understand the physiology better, we can better achieve the desired final appearance of the beech using the pruning method. Just like the desired end goal of the pruning. Always taking into account the health of the beech, also in the long term. Because incorrect pruning introduces major problems. For example, beech is very sensitive to real tinder fungus infestation when pruning branches that are too large. And you want to avoid that at all times.



Physiology of a beech. It provides more insight into what pruning does to a beech tree


Before we delve into the pruning process, it is important to better understand the physiology of a beech tree. Beech trees have an extensive root system that anchors them firmly in the ground and provides them with water and nutrients. The leaves of a beech are moderately wide and deep green. Which allows them to capture enough sunlight for photosynthesis. The leaves are small energy factories that ensure that the tree can maintain and grow its entire structure.

Beech trees also have a natural growth pattern, with most branches reaching upward to capture competing sunlight. This often creates a dense crown with little light entering the inner part of the tree. Pruning can help allow light to flow through the crown and improve the structure of the tree.

Older beeches have branches hanging on the outside of the crown. So that more leaves can still absorb a lot of sunlight.



Physiology of a beech in 7 steps


Trees, including beech trees, are complex and fascinating organisms with an extensive physiology. Below I will explain the most important aspects of tree physiology.





Photosynthesis is the process in which trees convert water and carbon dioxide into glucose (sugar) and oxygen under the influence of sunlight and the presence of chlorophyll in the leaves. Chlorophyll, the green pigment in leaves, plays a crucial role in this process. The leaves of trees capture sunlight and use it to convert carbon dioxide and water into glucose and oxygen. Glucose is then used as an energy source for growth and metabolism, while oxygen is released as a byproduct.

The water is transported from the roots, together with nutrients, to the leaves via the living vessels in the wood of the beech. And through a kind of biosynthesis, the gaseous carbon dioxide present in the air and the water present in the leaf are converted into glucose on the one hand and oxygen gas on the other. The glucose serves as an energy building block for the beech, and is stored everywhere in its structure; in the roots, trunk, branches, twigs, leaves, buds, ...

It is therefore always important to prune away as little leaf mass as possible from a beech tree, because the beech can then continue to perform maximum photosynthesis. The energy stored in branches and twigs is also retained.





Transpiration is the process by which water vapor is discharged to the outside through small openings in the leaves, the so-called stomata or stomata of the beech. This helps trees, including beech trees, to cool and remove excess water from their tissues. At the same time, transpiration causes an upward flow of water and nutrients from the roots to the leaves, a process known as transpiration flow.

And here too, the less leaf mass of the beech we prune, the better and greater the transpiration flow.



Root system of a beech


The root system of trees has several functions. First, it anchors the tree firmly in the ground. This ensures mechanical stability. Second, the roots absorb water and minerals from the soil that are essential for the growth and development of the tree.

Tree roots work with symbiotic fungi to extract nutrients from the soil more efficiently. And beech trees have ectomycorrhizal symbionts which can expand their root system by up to a factor of 1000. Because the fungal threads in the soil can absorb moisture and nutrients everywhere and send them to the root tips of the beech.

The symbiosis consists on the one hand of receiving sugars, via the roots of the tree, through the fungus and the ecosystem of the beech tree. And on the other hand, the fungus provides extra moisture and nutrients that are carried through the fungal threads to the roots of the beech.

Because the beech produces less energy when pruning, the soil fungi and the tree's own ecosystem receive fewer sugars. This weakens the tree species' own ecosystem, just like the beech itself. Here too, the less we have to prune a beech tree, the better.





Trees grow mainly through cell elongation and cell division. Cell elongation takes place in the trunk and branches, causing the tree to grow in height. Cell division takes place mainly in the cambium layer, a thin layer of tissue just beneath the bark of the tree. This increases the thickness of the trunk, resulting in secondary growth.

The more energy available, which in itself is of course highly dependent on the quality of the growing site, the better the growth. And the more leaves present, the more energy is available. So pruning a beech also affects the growth of the beech tree.



Transport of nutrients, through water


Water and nutrients are absorbed through the roots and transported up through the xylem vessels to the leaves. Xylem is the vascular tissue responsible for transporting water and minerals. Sugars, produced during photosynthesis, are transported through the phloem vessels to different parts of the tree for growth, storage and metabolism.



Hibernation and rest period


Trees undergo various physiological changes during their dormant period, such as in winter. This is known as sleep mode. Growth slows, metabolism is reduced and leaves may be shed. This helps the tree to conserve energy and adapt to seasonal changes.



Response of trees to environmental factors


Trees exhibit amazing responses to their environment. They can respond to light and gravity to adjust their growth and orientation. In addition, trees have adaptation mechanisms to survive under different conditions, such as drought, cold or competition for resources such as water and nutrients.

The physiology of trees is an extremely complex subject, and this is only a brief overview of the most important aspects. Each tree species has unique physiological characteristics, including beech, which further enriches the understanding of their ecology and growth. Studying the physiology of trees helps us better understand their crucial role in ecosystems. And it therefore contributes to better management, as well as to the preservation of these important living monuments.



When and how to prune a beech tree?


We now know that pruning a beech must be done with care, because it has an important influence on their physiological functioning in terms of the order of magnitude of energy production and everything that flows from it. Pruning at the right times and with the right techniques is also extremely important.

The ideal time to prune a beech tree is in late spring or early summer, when the tree is in full growth and all the leaves are fully developed. From that moment on, when the beech tree is already in full leaf, energy production is maximum. And it is best for the beech to seal off its pruning wounds. So avoid pruning in autumn, because then the healing of wounds slows down and the beech has a much lower energy level.

How we carry out the pruning work largely depends on the current crown architecture and the desired final image and end result in the long term. This way we can highlight the crown, so that more light reaches the inner crown. Or shorten, if necessary combined with lighting, to prevent top-heavy branches from tearing out over time, for example.




Removal of dead and damaged branches


We always carefully inspect the beech and remove any dead, diseased or damaged branches. This will not only improve the appearance of the beech tree, but also reduce potential hazards. So that damage is prevented.



More about thinning or lifting the crown


One of the main methods used when pruning a beech tree is thinning or lifting the crown. This involves selecting secondary branches that grow close to the main branches and carefully removing them. This allows light to flow better and deeper through the crown, allowing light to reach the inner part of the tree and creating a denser crown with more leaves closer to the trunk.

This can be a first step in achieving a correct and healthy crown reduction in the long term. On the other hand, if one were to suddenly shorten many branches on the outside of the crown, and there are no leaves yet in the inner crown, the beech would weaken too much because it would have too few leaves left after shortening. And by highlighting the beech in the first year and taking it in one or a few years later, a new inner crown has already been formed. This allows the tree to continue to supply its structure with energy in a more continuous manner.



Avoid heavy pruning in one pruning session


Be careful when pruning back large branches. Beech trees, like other trees, have difficulty healing wounds, so it is always better to remove branches gradually over several years. This phased pruning has the advantage that the tree will regain its strength by the next pruning. And the beech never experiences an excessive impact from pruning.



Climbing pruning of a beech tree


Climbing pruning is a technique used to reach branches to be pruned at the top of the canopy, safely and without damaging other branches or parts of the tree.

It is mainly used when pruning older beech trees whose branches are too high to reach from the ground.

And by pruning the tree while climbing, a heavy and expensive aerial work platform is not needed. And you protect the soil from soil compaction.

You also do not have to maneuver the cage of the aerial platform between the branches of the canopy. This prevents edge damage to branches and twigs (which you want to keep as much as possible).



Safety first


We always guarantee maximum safety. We have the right training, climbing techniques and the right equipment, such as a sturdy climbing harness, climbing lines and a helmet. We only climb with a team of experienced people who have the necessary training and experience.



Identify the beech branches to be pruned


View the tree from different angles to identify the branches that need pruning. Make sure you only prune branches that are within reach and that you are firmly attached to the tree before you start pruning.



Making controlled pruning cuts


Make careful and controlled cuts to prevent branches from breaking off and causing damage to the rest of the tree. Prune the branches just next to the branch collar, where they meet the main branch. Use sharp and clean pruning shears or a hand saw for larger branches.



Influence of pruning on a beech tree


Pruning a beech can have both positive and negative effects on the tree, depending on the execution of the pruning process and the initial condition of the tree.

That is why our Certified Tree Manager always determines during his visit whether or not the beech can handle pruning and how the beech will be pruned. Pruning a weakened beech has a negative impact on the tree. A vital beech tree, on the other hand, can handle some pruning. It is therefore very important to properly determine the condition of the beech.



Benefits of pruning


  • Thinning the crown can improve light penetration and stimulate growth of the tree's inner crown.
  • Removing dead or diseased branches helps make the tree safer for its environment.
  • Removing top-heavy branches prevents tearing of large living branches and prevents unnecessary weakening or large lacerations that could infect.
  • Pruning can also improve the overall crown structure of the tree, making the beech more balanced and mechanically stable.



Risks of incorrect or incorrect pruning of a beech tree


Cutting back too many large branches can cause stress and damage the health of the tree. Large pruning wounds do overgrow with callus, but it will take a very long time before the wounds close. And wounds that have been open for years are more likely to develop parasitic fungal infections.
Improper pruning techniques can lead to wounds that are difficult to heal and make the tree more susceptible to diseases and pests.





Pruning a beech tree is an important part of the tree's maintenance and can ensure healthy subsequent growth and a safe environment. It is essential to carry out the pruning process with care, with the right techniques and equipment and with the right insights.

Climbing pruning can be an effective method of reaching branches that would otherwise be out of reach. And you prevent soil compaction.

Understanding the physiology of a beech tree helps you make informed pruning decisions, maximizing the benefits of pruning and minimizing the potential risks. If in doubt, it is advisable to contact us professional arborist to ensure that pruning promotes the health and aesthetics of the beech.

I hope this information helps you understand the process of pruning a beech tree and how to do it in a climbing manner. If you have any further questions, I am always ready to help!



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