Learning how to properly prune trees and shrubs is an essential skill that will help keep them healthy and beautiful. Below, we’re going to share some pruning basics, discussing not only how to prune but also when.

How to Prune – Tools

Regardless of what you’re cutting, it’s important to have the right tool(s) for the job. The most common tools are:

Pruning Shears: Can be held with a single hand and spring-loaded to return to open position for your next cut. These are ideal for roses, vines, and shrubs.

Loppers: There are a few different types of loppers, but they all have thicker blades and longer handles than pruning shears, and generally require two hands for operation. Loppers are capable of cutting branches up to 2 ½ inches thick, and are typically used to trim trees and vines.

Pruning Saws: When loppers won’t do the trick, reach for a pruning saw. While there are many different styles, most can cut through branches up to 5 inches thick.

Hedge Shears: These are great for trimming and shaping hedges, evergreens, and shrubs. While the branches this tool generally encounters are thin, it can get through up to a 2-inch thickness.

Pole Pruner: Pruning trees and shrubs from a distance can be challenging and require this special tool. Reaching 8 feet or more, and able to cut through over branches up to 1 ½ inches thick, a pole pruner eliminates the need for a ladder, making it not only handy to have, but safe as well.

A Word About Tool Maintenance

It’s imperative that tools are well maintained. This means cleaning and sharpening blades on a regular basis. Tools should be cleaned after each use. A wipe-down with a rag is usually enough to clear the blades of debris. If you’re pruning a diseased tree, be sure to add alcohol to your rag before wiping the blades down.

If you start to notice your blades aren’t cutting as cleanly and efficiently as they used to, you can use a mill file to sharpen the blades’ bevels while securing it in a vise. If you don’t feel up to the task, having your blades professionally sharpened every year or so is also an option.

How to Prune – Techniques

Proper pruning of flower-bearing and fruit-bearing trees and shrubs can help them produce more flowers and fruit in future cycles.

If you’re pruning to get rid of disease, cut back all dead and diseased branches, ensuring to take a bit of healthy growth beyond what you want to eliminate to ensure you get all of it. Then you can trim additional growth as needed to achieve the desired shape.

If you’re pruning to reduce bulk and restore a nice shape to your tree or shrub, try to cut on a slight angle, about a half inch above a bud or branch that is growing in the desired direction.

Although over pruning will not destroy your tree or shrub, try to avoid being heavy-handed with pruning measures, as doing so would impede new growth the following season.

When to Prune

The guidelines around when to prune are fairly simple. For trees that bloom in the spring, like Lilac, Forsythia, and Rhododendron, it’s best to prune them as soon as the last flowers of the season fade. New growth begins on these trees after they’re done flowering, in the same season, so if you wait to prune until later in the growing season you’ll reduce flowering the following spring.

For summer blooming trees, resist the urge to prune in the fall. These shrubs don’t generate the new growth that flowers will grow from until spring time, so are best cut back after they go dormant in the winter or even early spring the following year.

For decorative and privacy hedges, like the popular Boxwood, trim back new growth regularly through the growing season, stopping about 6 weeks before the first frost. It’s best to keep the top a bit narrower than the bottom to avoid shading the lower branches from much needed sunlight.

While the subject of pruning tools and techniques can get more complex, depending on your hardiness zone and the plant species in question, the basic pruning advice above will help you keep your trees and shrubs healthy, happy, and looking good, year after year. If you find that maintaining your gardens requires more time and effort than you can spare, contact us at A Touch of Dutch Landscaping to discuss your maintenance needs.