How to Shape a Living Pine Tree

If you have live Christmas type pine trees on your property, here's how to give them more shape and fullness.


  1. Image titled Shape a Living Pine Tree Step 1
    Shape the tree late in the growing season, preferably from late May to early August, depending on your particular region.
  2. Image titled Shape a Living Pine Tree Step 2
    Use good quality, sharp bypass hand pruners. Cut the tree's very top tip - called the leader - back less than halfway but at least 2 inches (5.1 cm) at a 45 degree angle. Because the leader controls the growth hormone, trimming the leader a few inches every year promotes fuller growth.
  3. Image titled Shape a Living Pine Tree Step 3
    Shape the sides of the tree to a pleasing triangular shape. Use an imaginary line from the top to the ground at a 60 to 70 degree angle. Any branches that protrude past that line should be trimmed back.


  • Make sure your pruners are clean and sharp and clean them of any pine resin afterwards with rubbing alcohol.
  • Another light trimming to preserve the "Christmas Tree" shape may be done in early November.


  • If you must use a ladder to reach the top of the tree, follow manufacturers safety guide and have another person hold the ladder for you.
  • Don't shape a young tree or newly planted tree. If the tree is less than 3 years old or has not been planted long enough to become established (anywhere from 1-5 years depending on species), leave it to grow some before it's first shaping.
  • As always, use caution when using sharp tools.
  • Shaping is not the same as pruning. Shaping removes small limbs, branches or new growth to improve tree quality. Pruning on the other hand removes an entire limb. Pruning is used to correct problems whereas shaping is used to produce a desired form or "shape".

Things You'll Need

  • Clean, sharp bypass hand pruners.
  • Ladder, if tree top is too tall to reach from ground. Use caution and have another person help hold the ladder.

Sources and Citations

Article Info

Categories: Christmas Trees