Do not cut leaves or flower buds. Autumn pruning can remove leaves and flower buds that a tree has already set during summer growth. These buds remain dormant during the winter months and bloom the following spring. Our company is doing everything possible to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and to protect the health and safety of our customers, our workers and the community by taking all reasonable precautions.
Smaller branches should be pruned to three or four buds. If you see any saplings, shoots growing from the base of the tree, remove them. It is important that you do not remove all the temporary branches of the tree. Doing so will make the crown of the young tree too heavy and will produce an unattractive form of “lollipop”.
The small, temporary branches also help the growth of the tree by drawing water and nutrients through the trunk and protecting it from sun damage. When a tree is grown, up to 100% of the crown that bears the leaf is removed. As leaves are the food source of any tree, the absence of this food supply can cause the tree to starve temporarily. Cutting the neck of the branch can also be an unpleasant mistake.
Keeping the neck of the branch intact helps ensure that the wound is sealed properly after being pruned, but if injured, the wound could become infected with decaying fungi that could spread further inside the tree. Finally, cutting the top of a tree can be a deadly mistake. Read here why coverage is a hazard to trees. Correctly pruned tree branches form a callus where the removed branch was once.
This callus is essential for the health of the tree. Most tree branches that are cut down to the trunk or a main branch require three cuts to prevent damage to the bark. The first two cuts remove the weight of the tree branch, and the final cut is designed for the best growth of callus. After Hurricane Sandy knocked down some of them, fortunately the fallen trees didn't reach the house, I was very anxious about those trees.
I desperately don't want to lose this tree for family, aesthetic and personal reasons, so I consulted several arbolists in the area and they all suggested covering the tree between 12 and 15′ and then thinning the remaining branches. If I had to cut the lower shrub area, I would send nutrients to the tree to grow, or if I had lost it altogether. Pruning large tree branches, with diameters greater than 3 or 4 inches, can create wounds too large for the tree to seal. I had a tree company come in the fall and tell me that the healthiest way to prune my tree was to cut it.
In your case, there are many varieties of fruit trees and regular trees that are still quite small, or at least very slow growing. Putting on the top of a tree will stress and weaken it, making it less safe and causing costly long-term maintenance headaches. Now that the tree is free of dead or diseased branches, you need to make sure that the tree grows with a strong structure. Lion's tail is not a substitute for cleaning or reducing tree crowns, and is never performed by qualified tree pruners.
I recommend leaving large, established shade trees to qualified arborists and tree care professionals. Trees are flexible by nature and have endured the weather for millennia, but a tree with a lion's tail has lost its protective and flexible shape and can be more easily damaged in winter. Tree branches are pruned for multiple reasons, all of which result in a better-looking, better-yielding tree. I don't know where you live, but here in Georgia, I would use a lot of magnolia trees, as they have large, thick leaves that stay on the tree during the winter.