Tree Pollarding

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There are a few reasons for choosing to pollard trees. It is an effective way of reducing the amount of shade cast by trees, to thin the crown thereby increasing air circulation, it helps keep trees a comfortable size for their local environment, it may be necessary to shape a tree for design purposes and to prevent trees from touching overhanging electricity or telephone lines.

A number of different species of trees can be pollarded on a regular basis and in some cases it can be an effective way to rejuvenate a tree and to prolong its life. 

Pollarding can be used on many trees including the following:

ash, lime, elm, oak, beech, poplar, eldar, london plane, fruit trees, eucalyptus and sweet chestnut.

It is usually best to carry out any pollarding during the Winter months when the deciduous trees have shed their leaves,and the tree structure is more noticeable. The lower level of tree sap during this season means that less stress will be caused to the tree and it is also less likely that a tree will suffer infection from Insects or fungi during the Winter as both of these threats are dormant.

There are some exceptions to this rule however for example walnut prefer summer pruning and some fruit trees produce more abundant and better fruit if pruned in the summer. Consult a qualified arborist from Arborlife if in any doubt. 

It is also worth noting that trees within conservation areas may well have Tree Preservation Orders (TPOs) on them. It is worth checking with the local authorities before you would like the work to be undertaken and the relevant permission should then be sought either directly by yourselves or by Arborlife on your behalf.

Pollarding is usually done annually and should be done at least every few years to avoid potential problems

Trees may be pollarded as soon as they have reached the desired height and the form can then be chosen.

Usually when a tree has been pollarded, four or five main branches (cut to the desired length) will be left on the stem from which thinner ones will soon grow.

To maintain a pollard these smaller branches should be cut back to the original pollard cuts. In some cases where some leaf cover is required some branches may be left and others cut back to a side stem.

Before Pollarding surrey tree surgery

Pollarding is a pruning technique used for many reasons, including:

  • Preventing trees and shrubs outgrowing their allotted space
  • Pollarding can reduce the shade cast by a tree
  • May be necessary on street trees to prevent electric wires and streetlights being obstructed

These are a few of the plants it can be used on:

  • Ash
  • Lime
  • Elm
  • Elder
  • Eucalyptus
  • London plane
  • Oak
  • Some species of Acer 

Pollarding a tree is usually done annually, and would need to be carried out every few years to avoid potential problems. This usually involves hiring an arborist, so can be expensive. Why not consider the following before pollarding:

The best time for pollarding many trees and shrubs is in late winter or early spring. However, bear in mind the following:

  • Avoid pruning Acer species in spring when they are prone to bleeding sap. Summer can be a suitable time to pollard. However, the new growth may be poor as a result of the scorch, drought or heavy shade cast by neighbouring trees
  • The least favourable time for pollarding is the autumn, as decay fungi may enter the pruning cuts

Young trees

Once young trees or shrubs have reached the desired height, you can begin to pollard them. This involves choosing a framework:

  • On a shrub, this might be one stem cut to a metre high – a mass of stems will grow from the top
  • With a tree, it is more typical to leave a trunk supporting three or five branches – these branches are cut back to a desirable length and the twiggy growth appears at these ends

Initially, the new branches are held weakly in place as they grow rapidly from underneath the bark, rather than from within the tree. As the wood lays down annual growth rings, the union strengthens, often forming a thickened base where the shoot meets the trunk. Over a number of years, a swollen 'pollard head' forms where new shoots grow each year.

after pollarding surgery cobham

Rejuvenating an overgrown pollard.

 Whilst it does cost to pollard a tree annually it may work out more expensive to have to revive a tree which has been neglected for a number of years. The tree surgeons will need to remove more branches from potentially a much greater height. Consult an arborist for advice on whether a tree needs remedial pollarding.

Of course there are always exceptions and Walnut trees are best pruned in July.
A qualified arborist can advise you on all aspects of tree pruning and tree care.
If you live in, or near, a conservation area, you should check with your local authority before performing any work on trees. Many mature trees are listed for conservation reasons and you may need to get planning permission for planned works.

Rejuvenating an overgrown pollarded tree

Seek advice from an arborist before doing any work. Although having a tree pollarded regularly is expensive, an overgrown pollard may require more surgery to remove larger parts of the tree at a greater height.

Try the following to rejuvenate an overgrown pollarded tree or shrub:

  • Remove any spindly and weakly-attached branches
  • Consider whether the branches can be thinned out, and reduced in length, to create a tree-like framework, effectively restoring the pollard to a tree
  • It may be possible to remove all the branches that have grown from the stumps of the old pollards. London plane (Platanus × hispanica) responds to this treatment
  • Horse chestnut (Aesculus × hippocastanum) needs to be cut to a higher point in the tree, rather than to the original pollards. This avoids exposing large amounts of old wood, but creates a second set of pollard heads
  • In some cases, such as with hornbeam (Carpinus betulus) and ash (Fraxinus excelsior), it is beneficial to retain some of the branches. Likewise, some oak trees, such as Quercus robur and Q. petraea, do best when substantial portions of their main branches are retained

After any major work, the tree should be monitored for any further maintenance required.

Maintaining a pollard

Once a tree or shrub is pollarded, continue the annual cycle of cutting.

  • Branches should be pruned just above the previous pollarding cuts
  • In some cases, such as where some leaf cover is required, leave some branches intact or cut back to a side branch.


Trees with weaker wood prone to producing multiple shoots, such as poplar (Populus) and willow (Salix) can become hazardous. Some of the weakly-attached branches can break off and fall to the ground. Ideally, try to return to a frequent cutting cycle and have an arborist carry out a safety check regularly.

A similar problem can occur with trees such as beech (Fagus sylvatica), oak (Quercus robur) and sweet chestnut (Castanea sativa). The branches become heavy when pollarding lapses for several decades, and these may break away in windy weather. Consult an arborist, if you are in any doubt.