Basics of Pruning Trees and Shrubs

Trees and shrubs are naturally beautiful, growing as they wish with each passing season. When you incorporate large plants in your garden, including trees and shrubs, it’s imperative that you prune them when needed. This will not only improve the look of your garden but support overall health as well.

The truth is, pruning is often misunderstood, increasing the risk of damage. If done incorrectly, you can actually ruin your garden. No need to panic, however, because we would like to provide you with the essential basics, allowing you to prune your trees and shrubs like a pro.


Why Should You Care About Pruning Trees and Shrubs?

Before you understand how to properly prune, you may be wondering why it’s so important to do so. When you prune trees and shrubs, you’re essentially removing parts of the plant itself. Whether that means you’re eliminating branches, bud, or roots, this process boosts the overall appearance and health of your garden.

On the other hand, when you do not prune correctly, you can experience the opposite effect — permanently harming your trees and shrubs. As mentioned, no need to worry — once you learn the basics, pruning is quite simple. As you learn why it’s important to prune, your decisions will be based on common sense.

Basically, pruning means you’re removing dead, diseased, or damaged parts, ensuring that it does not affect the tree or shrub in its entirety. Also, as you effectively prune, you will help maintain the density of shrubs and evergreens, while controlling the overall size and shape.

If you’re not sure whether or not you should prune, consider the following:

  • You want your tree, shrub, or plant to grow into a specific shape — you may also want to ‘train’ your plant to grow in a certain direction. For example, trees with vines, can be trained to grow laterally.
  • You want to boost the health of your plant, tree, or shrub and have noticed that there are sections that are unhealthy and/or dead. You may also want to improve the quality of foliage, by allowing for more direct sunlight and greater air flow.
  • You have planted a tree or shrub that mature quickly, yet you would like to manage its size. Pruning can help you restrict the size in which a plant grows, ensuring that it fits your backyard’s available space.


How to Effectively Prune Trees and Shrubs

Although flowers and other plants can benefit from a good trim, when it comes to pruning, you’ll be more focused on trees and shrubs. Depending on the species you’re growing, you will need to understand when it is best to prune. In many cases, early to late spring is ideal, as this will promote new growth over the summer months.

When it comes to the actual pruning process itself — how to prune, will depend on a number of factors. What is it that you’re hoping to achieve? If you’re pruning a hedge, for instance, you will need to take a different approach in comparison to a rose bush or deciduous tree.

proper pruning principles

Photo credit: Arbor Day Foundation

Regardless of the plant you’re aiming to prune, here are a few key steps to help you along the way:

  • Focus on areas that are diseased, damaged, or dead, removing these stems and branches
  • Remove vertical growth that sprouts out from the base of the tree
  • Eliminate small limbs that cross over and touch other branches, as this can promote disease
  • Prune away growth, slightly reducing the size of the tree or shrub — take a step back and see where the tree or shrub looks imbalanced, helping to promote a more attractive display
  • Never cut in the middle of a branch or stem — always prune at the point of origin
  • Choose the right tools — lopping pruners, hand pruners, hedge shears, and a bow saw are all effective options
  • Be conscious of branch size — a diameter of two inches or less is generally okay to remove, but anything bigger, should only be removed for a good reason. Once you are finished, the ratio of living crown to tree/shrub height, should be two-thirds.
  • The first cut should be a small wedge-shaped cut on the underside of the branch you’d like to remove — this will break the bark, preventing a tear that runs along the stem tissue. Next, further along the branch, cut all the way through — you’ll now be left with a protruding stub. The final cut, should be parallel to your second cut, yet closer to the origin of the branch. Please refer to the diagram above to visualize these cuts.


With these tips in mind, you’re all set to improve the look and health of your garden — so, prune away!


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