Pruning Mistakes, Tools, and Pointers!
The ideal time to prune most trees and shrubs is while they are dormant in late winter or early spring. Leafless stems
make it easy to see where to cut, dead stems make their presence known, and with coldest weather past chances for
cold damage near cuts are minimized. During this time, it is the easiest time to notice pruning mistakes and triumphs.
Pruning correctly will result in a strong, healthy, and beautiful plant.
3 Common Pruning Mistakes
Mistakes can lead to disease and damage, along with a plant that looks less that desirable. Pruning mistakes will also
result in more work for homeowner, which is a cost of time and money.
Snipping the ends of branches
Pruning stimulates growth, so when the end of one branch is cut, often 4-6 new branches will take its place. Concentrate
on making a few larger cuts, rather than many small ones.
Cutting off the top of a tree to prevent it from becoming taller
While this may work for shrubs, it can lead to big problems for trees. Removing the top of a tree, or “topping”, causes
many branches to compete for sunlight, and can compromise the structure of the tree. It creates weak growth, instead
of a strong branching habit. If the damage is already done, try this: for conifers, choose the next defined lateral branch,
bend it up and secure it to the original branch. With deciduous trees, prune away any competing leaders so that the
most vigorous branch becomes dominant.
Branches are being cut too close to the trunk
Trimming too close to the main trunk creates problems for the plants healing process. Doing this can leave the plant
susceptible to pests, infection, and will leave a scar. When making a cut, the branch collar should be left on the tree. The
collar can be identified by where the branch swells and attaches to the tree. Cutting it off creates a much larger wound,
which slows the healing process. When the branch collar is left on, it should only take one or two growing seasons for
the tree to fully heal.
Having the proper tools can help you prune smart and safe; minimizing the chance of injury to you, and your plants.
Proper pruning requires four must-have tools; hand pruners, loppers, pole pruners, and a pruning saw. If you want to
correctly maintain even a single woody plant, you will eventually need all of these tools. Simple as that.
Hand pruners are meant to be used on plant material 1/2″ or less in diameter. There are two types of hand pruners,
bypass and anvil. A bypass pruner has blades that pass each other to make the cut, similar to a pair of scissors. This
pruner is often used for thinning and work on green wood. Anvil pruners operate by pinching the branch being cut, like
cutting a carrot on a cutting board. Anvil pruners work the best on tough, dead wood.
If the material you are cutting is more than 1/2″ in diameter then you need to choose a different tool for the job! A
lopper, pole pruner, or a pruning saw. Loppers can be used to make cuts out of arms reach or into the center of a shrub.
The long arms provide greater leverage and power to make a smooth cut. Pole pruners are used for those out of reach
branches that may not be safe to reach from the ground or a latter. Pruning saws are used to cut dense, or thicker than
1 1/2″ diameter wood. Pruning saws cut on the back cut or the pull which gives you better leverage. Use this guide to
determine which tool is right for your job.
Removing buds or very new shoots: hand knife
Ground level, thickness up to ½”: hand pruners
Ground level, thickness up to 1 ½”: loppers
Ground level, up to about 4″: pruning saw
Overhead up to about 14′, thickness up to ½”: pole pruner
Overhead up to about 14′, thickness under 2″: pole saw
Overhead thickness over 2″: best to leave to a professional arborist
Pruning is a vital part of gardening, but one of the most feared tasks. The 8 listed pointers below will keep you and your
plants adequately happy.
Prune young trees as little as possible. Any pruning will slow growth, so try to limit the injury given to the young
On any tree, cut away water sprouts (the vertical shoots in the branches) and root sprouts (the vertical shoots at
the base of the tree). These vigorous shoots soak up the plant’s energy, look unattractive, and bare few or no
flowers or fruits.
Avoid hedge shears on shrubs, except for those trained to formal shapes. Prune most bushes by a renewal
method, every year lopping some of the oldest stems to the ground to make way for young sprouts. Doing this
allows the shrubs to maintain a natural shape without old tired stems.
Before pruning any shrub, know its growth habit. Forsythia and lilac sucker abundantly, so remove some older
stems every year to make way for new ones. Bushes that make few suckers, such as witch-hazel and
rhododendron – need their oldest stems cut back only infrequently, if at all.
Wait to prune spring flowering bushes, such as spiraea and mock orange, until right after their blossoms fade or
else you will be removing some of the flower buds soon to unfold. Prune summer flowering bushes, such as
rose-of-Sharon and potentilla, now or anytime in early spring.
Don’t cut unless you have a clear reason to do so. Trees and shrubs vary in their needs for pruning, from, for
example, Japanese maple and witch hazel, which need no regular pruning, to butterfly bush and lilac, which
need annual pruning to look their best.
No matter what the plant, cut all dead and diseased stems back to healthy wood. Also prune back broken stems.
Tailor each cut to the response you want from the plant. Where you want increased branching, shorten a stem.
Where you want less congestion or to make a plant smaller, remove whole stems or limbs.
Hopefully this helps answer the common pruning questions, call or stop in to talk to our knowledgeable staff about any
other pruning questions or concerns!