Cloud Pruning and Lifting Canopies

 In Gardening, Ornamental trees, Pruning, Trees and Shrubs
cloud pruned box trees

Cloud pruned box at National Trust Lytes Cary, Somerset

Cloud pruning and lifting canopies of existing plants can transform your garden in a matter of hours.

What’s more it can be done with little or no financial outlay.

Many of us already have gardens that are full and well, perhaps in need of some revitalization!

A complete re-plan and replant may be what is needed. But sometimes you can change the look of a garden by some careful judicious pruning.

I’m talking about a snip here and there – a bit of cloud pruning and lifting canopies. This can change the look of what you already have.

At this time of the year the structure of the planting is obvious.

In spring and summer our eye is perhaps drawn to the colourful annuals and perennials. We don’t really notice how conifers or large evergreen shrubs are a key part of the scene.



Cloud Pruning

cloud pruned yew hedge

Cloud pruned yew hedge at Montacute House, Somerset

This may not be to everyone’s taste. But when it is done well, cloud pruning will have a dramatic effect on your garden. And an effect every day of the year!

So what is ‘cloud pruning’?

Quite simply it is trimming a bush or conifer so that the foliage looks like clouds. That’s clouds floating on the ends of branches.

This technique is especially popular in the Far East and in USA but has yet to really catch on here.

If your garden has a Japanese or Chinese theme then cloud pruning will enhance that feel.

Incidentally I’ve written about a great Chinese garden here and a fabulous Japanese Garden here. Both are in Portland, Oregon, USA.


But this stylized method of trimming lends itself well to contemporary gardens and architecture too.

To some this technique is referred to as niwaki.

cloud pruned tree in a garden

Cloud pruned pine tree

To achieve the cloud effect; cut away all minor growth from the trunk and branches. But stop short of the denser ends of the branches.

This end growth should then be trimmed to make it into a dense cloud-like structure.

Don’t worry if the effect isn’t immediate. You will need to trim several times a year to make those clouds become dense and convincing.

You may wish to read more on the Cloud Technique of Plant Pruning here.








Lifting Canopies

Lifting the canopy of shrubs and conifers is much less stylized and for that reason perhaps more rapidly achieved. In fact, the effect can be immediate and offers the possibility of a garden transformation in just a few hours!

Chelsea show garden

Bush with raised canopy on the left

To lift the canopy of a plant you will need that saw and pair of sharp secateurs again.

Start at the bottom of the tree and remove smaller branches but leave the main ones alone.

Keep on cutting – but stand back from time to time to see what effect you are having. You can cut but you can’t put growth back!

A specimen that has several branches starting low down will produce the best and most interesting effect.

Keep on removing the smaller shoots so that you have a view through the trunks. Hopefully that opens a view to another part of the garden.

[the sharp eyed among you might recognise garden designer Diarmuid Gavin in the background of my image!]

This works especially well with shrubs and conifers that are close to your house.

Remember that it is the look-through effect that you are trying to achieve.

You can read more on Lifting Canopies of Plants here.



Some suitable varieties

Show gardens use this type of raised canopy specimen plant. Many are evergreen but they could well be deciduous varieties.

Amelanchier, Japanese maples and Viburnum are common deciduous varieties treated this way.

Multi-stemmed conifer varieties of Lawson cypress, Hinoki cypress [Chamaecyparis obtusa], Sawara cypress [Chamaecyparis pisifera], junipers, pines and even yew can all have their canopies lifted to create this new look.

Evergreen shrubs suitable to have their canopies lifted are Aucuba, Bay laurel, Cotoneaster, Elaeagnus, Escallonia, Rhododendron, laurel and evergreen Viburnum.

Under planting

Having lifted the canopy or created clouds you can now plant shade tolerant bulbs, perennials and small shrubs underneath! There is no end of possibilities!


Give it a go!

Rather than rip a plant out, try to see whether this pruning technique opens a new vista in your garden.

Perhaps it even gives your garden a whole new look.

If it all goes wrong you can still remove the plant and put in another!

But I think that you might be pleasantly surprised by the renovating effect.

Both cloud pruning and lifting canopies of plants can give your garden a new look.

I’d be very interested to see the effect of cloud pruning and of lifting canopies of plants in your garden. Please take some before and after photos and send them to me.



When pruning at height in the garden it is vital to use a safe ladder.

I recommend the very stable Henchman tripod ladder which I have reviewed here.


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