White Shovel Landscapes

What is Tree Lopping?
A Quick Guide

Tree Lopping

Lopping refers to a tool used to cut a branch off a tree. It’s a strange middle English term “lop” which simple means to cut off branches and twigs. In this guide we are going to be talking about Tree Lopping, and what it means to your landscape maintenance.

As a general rule, when a landscaper refers to lopping of a branch, they rarely mean a twigor anything of less size than about a half inch. Simply put, tree lopping is something you do onlarger branches, usually branches between one half inch and about one and a half inches.

Tree Lopping Blades

If you go to your local home improvement store, you can ask for a pair of loppers. They will usually point you to something that resembles to giant sticks with a parrot style beak on the end. One of the blades is blunt, while the other is sharp. This is because the one side pushes its way all the through the branch while the other one supports, and finally slices when the blade meets the edge of the blunt side.

The art of tree lopping is considered a skill, or a learned art by a lot of people. There is however, a few ways to make this process easy to learn and understand.

Common Terms Associated With Tree Lopping

#1 - Tree Pruning

You may hear people talk about pruning their trees, and you might be confused if you refer to it as tree lopping. Tree pruning is commonly known as the plural phrase for lopping a branch.

Trees need to be pruned on a regular basis to prevent them from overshadowing grass, rubbing up against the house, or growing into utility lines. In these cases you will use tree or branch loppers to lop off the branches on your tree, and hence you will have pruned your trees.

Be Careful When Tree Lopping and Respect Your Trees

Don’t be alarmed to hear someone scared of pruning trees. You actually should carry a lot of respect towards this craft. Trees take a long time to grow, and you can easily (through pruning) cause a tree to begin to decay, and eventually die. It’s because of this, you need to take great caution and follow a few basic rules with pruning your trees.

They’re problems that stem from this fear or respect for tree pruning as well. Often I find clients who have been so scared to cut the branches on trees, they have let the tree branches get way too large and now they’ve created new issues. One of them being the branch has grown over their house and now they need a professional to cut the branch, or remove the tree completely. The other issue is the branches have become large, and now can no longer handle being pruned back as far as is needed without damaging the tree permanently.

#2 - Tree Trimming

Most of your tree companies refer to tree trimming when discussing cutting back a rather large tree. So imagine a tree that’s taller than your house. These tree’s would need to be trimmed. A tree trimming company might come in with a bucket truck and go up to remove branches here and there. This would be referred to as tree trimming. Of course you could prune a small tree and call it tree trimming, but you could confuse people who understand the topic.

Tree Lopping

Tree Whacking vs Tree Trimming

You also have utility companies that claim to perform tree trimming. They will come to your house and proceed to whack off the top half of your tree where it’s getting into their electric lines. Landscapers refer to this as tree whacking, and not tree trimming.

You can prevent this devastating attack on your trees by hiring a professional to do real tree trimming long before the tree gets to the size where they feel it needs to be whacked.

Keep in mind, pruning early is the secret to good tree trimming. This doesn’t mean you have to be outside everyday cutting back your branches. But a once a year removal of branches that will cause issues if you let them go, will save you hundreds if not thousands of dollars depending on where the tree is located.

#3 - Tree Removing

I believe in removing trees that have come up in the wrong place, or where you want to build a house. However, I think some people buy houses because the house has trees, but the first year they have to clean up the leaves, they want to remove all the trees.

Tree removal is not something you should take lightly. Trees can take many years to get to maturity, so it’s important to think before simply having them removed. Lots of times a tree can be cut back and accomplish the same goal your trying to get to, by removing said tree.

3 Parts of Tree Removal

However, if you do have to remove the tree you will want to understand what’s going to happen. A tree has three major parts that require different tools to remove. The tree itself, which makes up the major part you can see. The stump, which goes down into the ground quite a ways, and finally the root system which can span almost forty or more feet in diameter around a trees base.

If you remove a tree, and grind the stump out today, in three years you could have all sorts of settling through out your yard. This is because the roots of the tree have begun to decay, and are now causing your soil to settle.

Also, when you grind a stump, you now have a ton of wood chips to deal with, and this can cause fungus, and mushrooms to grow as they decay. You can’t simply plant grass or grow sod on top of a hole filled with wood chips. These need to be dug out, and soil put back in place of the chips. Even with this method, you will always have settling in the future.

What is the Difference Between Tree Lopping and Tree Pruning?

I wanted to dig into this topic a little more, and cut off a piece of the details growing underneath this giant tree we are going to call tree lopping.

When you think about tree lopping, it’s more of an action you would take on a tree to remove a branch. Tree pruning, on the other hand, is more used to describe the art of trimming trees. Of course a tree trimmer is also known as an arborist. This is the actual craft of pruning trees.

Professionals Can Save Your Tree

A lot of times you will look online for a tree trimming company, and you will find lots of companies that can cut branches off of trees. An arborist is not just someone who cuts tree branches. These guys and girls can tell you exactly where to cut to save a tree, and they can also tell you if a tree can recover from a bad cut or not.

The main difference in tree trimming versus lopping is in the size of the branch. Tree lopping (as we talked about earlier) is a small branch about the size of your closet rod, while tree pruning can be large and small branches. All tree cutting should be recommended through a professional, and you should always be extremely careful with tree pruning equipment.

When is Tree Lopping Recommended?

Usually when a tree is dormant in the winter is a good time to begin lopping off branches, however, some arborist insist on spring or summer because trees then have time time to recover. Having pruned many trees and shrubs, I’ve come to the conclusion that you don’t want to chop off new growth, as it can make a tree look ugly at the wrong time of the year. That is why I say, prune trees right before they come out of being dormant. This way you get the best of both worlds. You are pruning them while they are dormant, and then right after your done, the trees go through their spring growing phase as well as heal from the cuts.

As always, I recommend that you try to make your cuts early on in the trees life. It’s easier on the tree to remove branches long before they become problems. Perhaps there is a life lesson in there as well. There is no time to prune trees like the present. You want to make sure you get your cuts made, and if you feel you may forget, or you’re going to get busy, you should make your cuts. This way there is less chance of them getting out of hand.

Things to Consider When Tree Lopping

Through out this guide we have talked about some different concerns when it comes to tree lopping. In this section I want to sum those things up real quick.

#1 - Don't Cut Too Close to the Quick

You know how when you’re cutting your nails and you cut too far back into the nail and it hurts like crazy. When your cutting trees, they may not hurt like crazy, but you can also cut too close to the trunk of the tree.

So many times, clients believe they are doing a better job of lopping their trees because they cut them flush with the trunk of the tree. This cannot be further from the truth. A tree needs about four inches of left over branch in order to heal properly. Which means you need to leave about six inches of branch left over after you make your cut. Then the four inches will die, and the two inches will grow over and heal properly.

In contrast, if you cut it off flush. The dead part will bury itself inside the trunk of the tree and eventually cause disease.

Tree Lopping

#2 - Lop it Early

One of the main things we talked about was trimming small branches early, before they become too big for loppers, or require a professional to cut.

#3 - Make Sure Your Loppers are Sharp

They call it tree surgery for a reason. If you use dull loppers, you can cause unneeded damage to the bark of the tree. It can strip off more bark after the branch falls. It’s also easier with sharp loppers.


You should respect the tree lopping process, but don’t respect it so much that you turn it into fear, and thus never cut your trees back. Trees need to be pruned to remain healthy. Even large oak trees can grow branches so large that they break off and cause damage that leads to the death of the tree. Tree pruning also encourages new growth, which can create thicker more healthy growth on a tree. Don’t forget trees are living things, and they provide oxygen for the air, reduce heat on patios and houses, and give you something to do in the winter in your yard.

There are always times when you have to remove trees, but it’s always a good idea to look around for options or other things you can do besides removing the tree completely. I hope this quick guide has helped you to understand tree pruning, lopping and trimming. Working in your yard can be fun, and rewarding. If you learn the proper techniques, you can use them to keep a great landscape for years. Don’t be scared to try a few things, and keep in mind; tree branches are similar to hair. It’s always better to do a little at a time, because once you cut it off, you can’t put them back on. Of course, tree branches you can actually graft them back on, but we’re going to forget about that for this topic.

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