Proper Pruning Techniques

I enjoy the beauty of a large Forsythia, Kerria or Flowering Quince in bloom in the spring. They can be beautiful plants when allowed to grow in a natural form. I have seen people prune them until they are just ugly, and that's just sad! If you learn nothing more about gardening, learn to prune correctly. Many times gardeners are afraid of pruning their shrubs and trees. You should never be afraid to prune and remember that you will not kill the plant if you make a mistake. Pruning is a good thing when done correctly. Pruning is the selective removal of plant parts to retain the natural shape of the plant the way nature intended. Pruning is designed to increase flowering and fruiting and encourage vigorous growth in old plants. Pruning is the removal of dead, broken, or crossed limbs and reducing or maintaining the plant size to improve the shape of the plant. Pruning is also the removal of plant parts that can damage property like your house. Do NOT prune late in the growing season. Evergreens should be pruned after low winter temperatures have passed such as late winter or spring. Start pruning a plant when it is young rather than waiting till it is old. You will have a better shaped plant because of it. It is a good idea to research the proper pruning procedures for the plant you want to prune. Some plants can bleed or may not be able to take a sever pruning. A good book for researching different plant needs is the "Ortho's All About Pruning" book. I would suggest that you add this book to your gardening library.

The proper tools for pruning are bypass pruners, loppers, pruning saw (hand or pole) and for big jobs a chain saw or chain saw on a pole. Hedge shears are for shearing NOT pruning. Most small jobs can be done with hand bypass pruners and loppers. NEVER use advil pruners. This type of pruner tends to crush stems as it cuts. Make sure you use the correct pruning tool for the size of limbs that you are cutting. Pruning cuts should be made close to the main stem or trunk and never leave stubs. Cut at an angle just about 1/4 inch above a bud. Make sure that your tools are kept sharp and clean. There are different types of pruning cuts like thinning, heading, lateral, pinching or shearing.

  • Thinning Cuts - Removing stems to open up a plant and stimulate new growth.
  • Heading Cuts - Remove the terminal bud by cutting anywhere on the main stem.
  • Lateral Cuts - Cutting the main stem back to a branch or bud.
  • Shearing - Shortening all stems by a certain amount using hedge shears.
  • Pinching - Using your thumb and forefinger to remove the tip of the plant.


The two rules to always remember - NEVER top a tree and do not use pruning paint.
If the job it big, hire an arborist. You should always remove storm damaged limbs as soon as possible. Never prune near power lines. Prune shade trees and non-flowering trees during the dormant season. If you have a tree that produces fruit, prune for fruit production NOT flower production. Prune spring flowering trees AFTER they bloom. Summer flowering trees should be pruned BEFORE growth appears. Use a three step cut for cutting large branches of trees to prevent tearing of the bark. The first cut is on the underside of the branch at least half way into the branch. The second cut is cutting the entire branch in front of the first cut. The last cut is close to the tree trunk or tree collar. If you prune correctly the tree will heal properly.


If the shrub is a spring flowering shrub the best time to prune is after flowering. If you prune before flowering you may be cutting away your flowers for that season. If you have a summer flowering shrub, prune before the growth begins. Normally you want to remove dead, broken or crossed limbs. Crossed limbs are limbs that are crossing and touching each other. When the wind blows the limbs rub against each other creating wounds. You should make cuts close to the base of the shrub. If a shrub is old, you can do a renewal cut by removing 1/3 of the plant over three years. Cuts should be at ground level. Some shrubs can have a rejuvenation pruning where you cut 3/4 of the plant back to ground level and allow it to regrow.

Always remember that most pruning can be avoided by the proper placement of a shrub or tree at the time of planting. Allow plenty of space for a plant to grow. Always check plant tags for proper spacing. Prune your shrub or tree for a natural look like nature intended it.

The Creative Gardener


Heather said…
Wow! I read to my husband the part about tree pruning, he likes the chainsaw unfortunately. Very informative. I will be trying my hand at some this spring.
Tatyana said…
I learned a lot from this post, thanks!!!