Here’s Why Branches Don’t Always Grow At The Bottom Of A Tree

Morning garden trees with branches

Have you ever noticed a tree that is full of beautiful branches and leaves, but wondered why the tree doesn’t have branches that grow on the bottom portion of the tree?

Branches don’t always grow at the bottom of a tree due to the amount of sunlight this part of the tree tends to get. Many trees also shed their lower branches as they continue to grow so that the higher branches can receive more energy from the sunlight.

There is a pretty simple reason that explains why some trees don’t have branches growing down the entire length of the trunk just a bit deeper than what we said. We won’t keep you waiting any longer- let’s get into it!

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Why Don’t Branches Grow At The Bottom Of Trees?

Trees growing without bottom branches, deciduous trees

Biologically, there is no one thing stopping branches from growing at the bottom of trees, at the base of the trunk. 

The culprit, simply put, is the amount of sunlight this part of the tree tends to get. 

It is for this exact reason that tree branches also tend to continue growing outward for long periods after becoming large, established branches. It’s all about which branches can get more sunlight!

Many trees shed their lower branches as they continue to grow so that the branches that are higher up and therefore closer to the sunlight can receive more energy to grow. 

Branches Grow Where The Sun Goes

To make it easy, you can remember that branches tend to grow wherever the sun goes. 

Things like nutrients from the soil, water, and sunlight are the key components to the health and success of a tree. While different species certainly have different needs, this is a constant that you can bet on almost every time!

Why Would Trees Not Lose Their Bottom Branches?

Group of trees in rocky mountain forest

When it comes to an evergreen tree like pine, the biology of the tree works a bit differently. 

In a tree like this, the lower limbs (meaning the branches) tend to support the higher branches. 

This makes sense if you look at the triangular shape of a pine tree, where the lower branches are longest and then each row gets a bit shorter until the top ends in a small point of branches and twigs. 

Because of the shape and structure of this type of tree, vying for sunlight is not as much of a concern. Therefore, structural integrity and support turn into the main priority

Pros And Cons Of Pruning Bottom Branches On Trees

While pruning is a great, and important practice the way you go about doing so can differ depending on the type of tree you are dealing with. 

Deciduous Trees

Autumn. Fall. Autumnal park. Autumn tree.

Deciduous trees do the best with pruning, thanks to the anatomy of a deciduous tree. According to Virginia Tech University’s Cooperative Extension, corrective pruning can be quite useful when the purpose is to remove any dead branches or branches that are rubbing too close together. 

Even if the latter is healthy branches, any that are growing too close together for too long can hinder sunlight, trap moisture and cause decay, or offer a host of other complications. 

Pruning deciduous trees is a pretty regular practice that when done correctly and without being overzealous, can be a very beneficial part of tree maintenance.

You can learn more about deciduous trees here!

Evergreen Trees 

Beautiful pine trees on background high mountains.

Evergreen trees can benefit from pruning. The University of Idaho Extension highlights this by saying that you should locate the live zone of the tree and remove any branches that may be decaying or otherwise damaged. 

It is important to remember that evergreens have a dead zone closer to their trunks, which is where branches have been so densely shaded by other sun-facing branches that new branches cannot develop nor be sustained. 

So, as you prune an evergreen, be sure to keep the live zone full enough to continue growing. If you over prune and expose the dead zone, likely that new branches and needles will not be able to take place of the old ones.

Additionally, there is another extra consideration for evergreen trees. Since there are branches that grow so much lower on many of the species in this category, you’ll want to be careful about ‘limbing up’ evergreens or removing the lower branches for the sake of appearance.

If you decide that pruning your tree is the way to go, you can try these Fiskars Bypass Pruning Shears for nice, clean cuts that leave you knowing that you got the job done cleanly and efficiently.

Want to learn more about evergreen trees? Check out our article Here’s How Evergreens Grow During The Winter And Year-Round!

How Can You Keep Your Trees Branches Strong?

Road covered by southern oaks

Alright, so now that you have a better idea of the (simple) reason that branches don’t always grow at the bottom of a tree, and the ways that pruning differs in evergreens and deciduous trees, what’s next?

Keep your tree healthy and maintained regularly, of course!

Learn more about tree maintenance in our article 5 Simple Tips For Trimming A Cedar Tree!

Regularly Monitor Your Tree

By this, of course, we mean that the prize is your tree’s health and you should keep a watchful eye over your tree to ensure that it maintains its strength and wellbeing. 

This is perhaps the simplest, most constant part of general tree maintenance and a good practice to get in the habit of early on.

By keeping tabs on how your tree is doing every once in a while, you’ll be able to catch problems before they start, instead of needing to take a more reactionary approach. 

If you remember one thing about how to grow a good tree it should be this: prevention is the best method!

By watching your tree, you’ll be able to more quickly notice anything out of the ordinary. This could mean seeing signs of weakness, early detection of disease, noticing insect infestation, and more. 

Malnourishment and under watering are also some common culprits when it comes to the weakening of a tree, so we will go into a little more depth about those two below. 

Frequently Water Your Tree

Speaking of those important measures you can take to equip your tree with the best chances of not only survival, but the ability to thrive, you should be regularly watering your tree. 

Watering a tree? Just like its any other plant on my property? But trees don’t need watering like other small plants, do they?

This is a common misconception and one that often leads to issues down the road when it comes to tree growth. 

A tree that is not receiving proper hydration will not be able to put the same amount of energy toward growing those beautiful branches, getting taller, or sprouting lush new leaves. That energy will all go toward keeping the tree alive. 

Think of it like this, you’re sitting in the sun all day, soaking up lots of heat and rays. If you only drink a sip or two of water, you’ll probably be feeling pretty thirsty. Trees are the same way.

Even if there was a rain shower a few weeks ago or you sprayed a bit of water when you watered the flowers on the porch or the vegetables in the garden, that doesn’t mean that the tree is fully hydrated and performing at its best capacity. 

Utilizing an irrigation system can help determine how often, and how easily, you make sure your tree is receiving water. 

If you are starting out and looking for a simple solution the Raindrip Rootwise 360 Precision Drip Irrigation System is a great option. This is great for saplings and younger trees that don’t have a very wide trunk just yet. Eventually, you and your tree will need to graduate to either a larger size or a different system.

Fertilize Your Tree Each Season

That may sound dramatic that fertilizer can be a lifesaver for your tree, but using a product that helps nourish your tree is as easy yet crucial as it gets!

How do you know what type of fertilizer would be best for your tree? 

Using a balanced tree fertilizer like this J R Peters 52024 Jacks Classic No.1.5 20-20-20 All Purpose Fertilizer can act as the perfect starting point. 

Hold on, though. What does balanced mean, really, and what do all of those 20’s stand for? 

Simply put, fertilizers have an NPK value (standing for nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium), which indicated how different elements are balanced within the fertilizer. So, if you see 6-6-6 or 10-10-10 or 20-20-20, you can rest assured that your fertilizer is going to be well-balanced and can work on most if not all trees. 

For specific species, you can look up the NPK value that is recommended by experts, and go from there.

We’ve Reached The Bottom (Of The Article)

Golden fall foliage autumn yellow maple tree on golf course fairway in seasonal mountains

Sorry for that one, but we’re trying to branch out!

Get it? 

Anyway, we are glad you stuck around to learn a little more about why branches don’t always grow at the bottom of a tree.

We are wishing you the very best of luck as you continue along your own tree journey. For now, keep learning and we’ll see you soon!

References

Clowes, M. S. T., & Allison, J. C. S. (1983). The growth and development of lateral branches in the top, middle and bottom of pruned coffee trees in a hedgerow. Zimbabwe Journal of Agricultural Research (Zimbabwe) v. 21 (2) p. 115-134.

Massonnet, C., Regnard, J. L., Lauri, P. E., Costes, E., & Sinoquet, H. (2008). Contributions of foliage distribution and leaf functions to light interception, transpiration and photosynthetic capacities in two apple cultivars at branch and tree scales. Tree physiology, 28(5), 665-678.

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