Garden View: Tree lion tailing – dangerous and deadly


Lion tailing, or tipping, is an over-pruning method used on trees that removes so much foliage the natural shape of the tree is changed with the removal of too many branches.

This results in a few branches with leaves on the very tip of the branch, which looks like a lion’s tail, or a poodle cut on a dog. It also results in a dangerous and potentially deadly tree that is now structurally damaged.

So, what is wrong with lion tailing, or tipping of trees?

>> This practice greatly reduces the tree’s food supply, since too much is removed and there is not enough leaf material left for the tree to produce enough food to support the trunk, branches and root system. Without enough food, the tree slowly starves to death. (Remember, plants make their own food through photosynthesis.)

>> Removing the inner branches and leaves exposes the remaining areas to sunlight that may not have been exposed prior to pruning. This exposure will cause sunburn to the bark and bark splitting. This opens wounds and leaves the tree ripe for invading insects and diseases.

>> Lion tailing causes the tree to go into a mode of super stress called “epicormic sprouting,” or “water sprouts” which produces a flush of branches along the trunk and limbs. These can be caught in a wind and send the entire branch flying. This growth is weakly attached. The tree is literally in total panic mode.

>> This practice greatly increases the opportunity for the tree to fall over or have large limbs fall off, especially as the dying process progresses, or heavy winds occur. When too many branches are removed the tree is structurally weakened.

Can a tree recover from this over-pruning? Sometimes trees can recover if sprouts are allowed to develop into branches. Some branches will need to be removed along a main branch as the tree recovers. This needs to be supervised by a professional arborist.

The key to proper pruning is to hire a professional and communicate. As owner of the tree, it is your responsibility to learn the proper method of pruning for your trees, even if you are not going to do the work. Do not be afraid to ask for a drawing of proposed work with an explanation. Discuss what you would like. Be prepared to listen if the hired professional disagrees with you about how much material to take off. Also, be prepared to defend the structural integrity of your trees by knowing what is too much. Communicate, before the first cut is made.

In some Valley cities, especially Edinburg, tipping is illegal and a business owner or homeowner can be fined for this type of damage to trees. If you have trees, learn what is safe and what is not. You can pick up tree care materials at the Growing Growers Farmers Market from 9 a.m. to Noon today at Firemen’s Park on corner of 1st Street and Business 83 in McAllen.

Barbara Storz is a local horticulturist. You can listen to her radio gardening show at 7 a.m. Saturdays on 710 KURV or e-mail her at