The Gardener’s Guide to Proper Pruning - Planted Perfect Garden Tips
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The Gardener’s Guide to Proper Pruning - Gardening Tips and Strategies to Get You Going


When it comes to having an exquisitely maintained yard, a big piece of the outdoor puzzle comes down to pruning.Correct pruning bolsters the beauty of most landscaping, trees and shrubs alike and prevent harm from befalling the most beautiful parts of your yard.

What most homeowners fail to realize however is the danger in poor pruning. Without man, most plants may still grow and prosper without pruning or proper maintenance but incorrect timing and cuts can damage trees and bushes beyond repair. Let this guide be your lesson in peak performance pruning and how to get the most beauty possible out of your home’s exterior (and if you'd prefer a starting a vegetable garden, check out this article).

Reasons for Pruning

  • to promote plant health
  • to improve the flowering, fruit, foliage or stems
  • to prevent unwanted growth
  • remove dead and damaged branches

The primary purpose of this is energy, supplying additional energy to the plant where it’s needed most, for the development of flowers, fruits, and limbs.

Ways to Avoid Pruning

Pruning’s a skill and it’s important to recognize it’s purpose and place in landscaping and exterior design. Stats show that more trees die every year from poor pruning than by all pests combined. Because of this, please remember pruning is only the removal of certain plant parts that either are not required or no longer effective for the plant.

After realizing that over-pruning’s often worse than under-pruning, consider ways to eliminate the need altogether. From choosing plants with proper mature sizes to shrubs which are well suited to environment at hand, it’s possible to drastically reduce the work required to keep a lovely backyard garden or landscaped home by following these advices.

When to Prune

Once we understand the importance and some of the pitfalls of poor gardening and pruning, it’s important to know when to prune. And contrary to many a wives tale, pruning can infact be done at any point through the year, assuming of course the absence of snow :)

Truly though, differing plants are best served at different points throughout the year. This is typically done from late winter to early spring before the beautiful growths begin to happen. And it is important to note that pruning after the plant growth begins to occurs in late spring is the most probable way to harm or ruin the plants and can lead to dwarfing or stunting plant growth. Alternatively, pruning towards the end of perfect summer, while sound in theory can actually create devastating results for the plants in question as it may well not be able to harden in time to survive cold, long winters.

Pruning Equipment

The right tool for the right job, that’s what we need for proper pruning. So minimize the mess in your garage or storage shed by having only the essentials to properly prune and maintain your yard.

Pruning Snips - Stems, Flower and Precise Garden Art

Snippers or pruning snips as they are more commonly called are quite popular with florists, herb and veggie gardeners and perfectionists seeming incredible aesthetics with their gardening. Loved because of their small size, lightweight and nimble, precise cuts, many gardeners carry small trimmers through the yard to fine tune minute, all-important details.

Hand Pruners - Small Branches < ½”

Hand pruning shears are popular with homeowners and landscapers alike because of their versatility and ease of use.. Most of are designed for cuts up to 1/2 inch in diameter and should not be used with larger branches to avoid damaging your shears, plant or perhaps both.

The two most common common of hand pruners are bypass and anvil cutters. In our experience bypass pruning shears, which cut much the same way as your regular kitchen scissors are much superior in cut quality to their anvil counterparts. Looking for performance and reliability, you can get these solidly dependable shears here at a super fair price.

Lopping Shears - Medium Branches ~ ½ - 2”

Lopping shears also known as loppers are also quite common in pruning. These long handled cutters provide better leverage for larger cuts, ½” up to about 2” and are a mainstay with any interested in an excellent yard.

Pole Pruners - Tree Limbs

Pole pruners are used to trim back large, overhanging areas of foliage. As you can see these cumbersome pruners consist of pole, saw and pull rope to cut back on tree branches. This is best served by a practiced hand as debris will fall from above but opens up nice areas in tree coverage for better lighting and sun for plants and homes alike.

Hand Saws - Branches and Brambles

Pruning saws are perfect for low hanging, dense tree cover and bush growth. A sturdy hand saw cuts stronger and smoother than even the largest of lopping shears and makes a convenience, versatile tool to carry and use around the yard and garden.

Hedge Shears

If you’ve seen exquisitely shaped hedges and greenery taking on all manner of amazing shapes and sizes, it was likely done with hedge shears. Most frequently, landscaping is done with manually operated shears; however, for large commercial areas and government buildings, it often makes sense to use electric powered hedgers.

Proper Pruning Plan

To get the best results and overall greatest appeal of plant and flora life, it’s important to tailor pruning practices to particular plant types. Every bush, tree and piece of greenery has its own unique characteristic shape and size, and to bring out its maximum beauty.

Because of this it’s important to identify all the different types of plant life you’ll be pruning and plan accordingly. These will vary by region, but typically local nurseries will be able to identify the bush and have reference books with plant information and any special pruning instructions. For help with this, just clip a small piece of the plant and bring it in.

Plant Types and Budding

For most woody plants, we can categorize them based upon the arrangement of the buds on the twigs and branches. Typically the bud patterns will indicate the plant’s growth shaping.

For buds alignment, there are two main types to consider: alternate or opposite budding on twigs. Plants with opposite bud alignment will typically form a rounded or crown shaped tree or bush when grown and matured.

Alternatively, plant with alternate bud structures generally yield pyramid, inverted pyramid, rounded or column shaped plants when grown as seen below.

With both of these varieties of woody plants, the location of the last pair of buds will determine the direction new shoots will grow. For instance, a plant with buds on top of the twig will grow upward towards the sun and towards the side in which it is directed.

In order to encourage plant growth and channel energy into the parts of the plant most in need of growth, it is advisable to cut back stems to the bud or branch. Also keep in mind that outward growth is ultimately more beneficial for the plant’s long term health . This means buds pointing in towards the plant are less helpful as they will cross one-another and lessen the areas of sun exposure. These buds are more advisable to prune out than those growing outwards.

Pruning Cuts

When looking to cut back to an intersection point, be sure to choose a branch that forms an angle less than 45 degrees with the branch to you desire to remove. Doing so will allow better growth and prevent malformed, unhealthy branches from forming. It is also important that the when cutting back a branch to an intersection that it’s diameter is at least half its counterpart.

Once you’ve identified which branches are in need of pruning, slanting cuts should be used to remove limbs that grow upward. This speeds the process of recovery by preventing pooling or water collection in the cut.

To Encourage Outward Woody Plant Growth

Often times it’s either optimal or desirable of open up a woody plant, or have it grow outward. To do this we will need to focus on removing interior growth and set the budding branches up for outward growth by cutting back terminals to outward facing buds.

When shortening any branch or twig, prune back to a proper side branch and cut approximately 1/2 inch above the bud - too close and the bud usually dies, too far and the wood above the bud usually dies. Neither of these are good news for your plant.

To Increase Side Branching

To encourage bushes and trees to sprout and grow more side branching, you may remove the tips of all limbs. This is done because new shoot strength and growth are directly related to the amount of resources they receive from the plant and pruning back serves to increase this. This means when more pruning and cutting back are performed, the following year the plant will experience larger amounts of new growth and larger blooms and flowering. Alternatively less pruning leaves a larger area of budding and results in more flowers and fruit the following year but of a lesser magnificence and size.

Collaring Thick Branches

To avoid damaging larger, more mature plants and branches, it is important to collar or cut the branches in the most protective parts of the plants. In this case branches ought be cut back flush to the base of the branch, also known as the collar or area that swells around the branch. But cutting properly and avoiding stubs the branch area will soon grow over and protect the plant from harm.

Repairing Tree Injury

When dealing with woody plants, it is important to think of the bark as their suit of armor. Injuries to trees or bark that expose the interior of the wood can seriously damage the growth and health of the plant longterm by allowing insects or organisms into the tree.

To avoid this, proper treatments are available to promotes faster healing and saved damaged trees and shrubs. To encourage the active type of natural healing which trees use in nature, cut away damaged areas of bark and form the injury into an ellipsoid shaping. This helps trees to isolate the injury and release water as necessary.

For trees that have been highly damaged in storm conditions, remove broken branches and work to reshape the tree to promote new growth. You may deal with broken trunks and cracked limbs by restoring the damaged part to its original position and holding it there permanently. Often the tree will grow to heal itself but will need to be secured with screws or cables until able to stand upon its own.

Pruning Shrubs

Deciduous Shrubery

Typically when working with most deciduous shrubs, it is desirable to open up the plant and allow for more side growth, resulting in a more full and beautiful plant. To do this, thinning and gradual renewal are best for rejuvenating the plant. When thinning out shrubs, branches in question should be cut off at its point of origin. This serves to maintain health and strength of the much smaller branches and twigs of the shrub yet still allows for side growth.

Shrubery pruning is best done with hand pruners or loppers for easy access and cuts. You will want to thin out the oldest and tallest stems first for the gradual renewal of the bush itself. If it is overgrown it might be a good idea to perform some thinning as well.

To do this and reinvent an older, out of control shrub, prune out about one-third of the oldest, tallest branches to allow new growth to start.

Flowering Shrubs

When flowering and blooms are the primary purpose of a shrub, it’s important to keep the flowering schedule in mind when considering pruning. After a season’s full growth and bloomage, the plant should be pruned back shortly after. This leads to strong summer growth and will result in beautiful flowering in the next year’s bloom.

Examples of this include: Honeysuckle, Forsynthia, Japanese quince, azaleas, rhododendrons and several other types.

For shrubs such as the ones below that bloom after spring spring season and typically do so from buds of that same spring, you will want to prune these in late winter for maximum growth and vitality.

Shrubs best pruned during late winter include: crape myrtles, hydrangeas, hibiscus, butterfly bushes and most shrub roses.

Beautifully Pruned Hedges

One major way to set a yard apart from all others is with the shaping and design of its hedges.In order to achieve phenomenal results, hedges must be shaped from infancy. In this, be sure to select nursery hedges which both fit your climate and desired landscaping style and size requirements.

After choosing young, promising shrubs less than 2 feet high, it is time to get started beautifying your yard. When initially planting in your yard, you should cut the plants to 6 or 8 inches to force low branching and set the hedges up for success.

As you enter the end of the first growing season prune off about half of the new growth and repeat the pruning procedure the following year.

Note: Whatever you do, do not prune your hedges to have flat tops, especially early on in growth. Whether snow, rain or poor structure, these unnatural hedges are generally unsuccessful and require a great deal more upkeep.

At this point you’ll start to enter a more mature phase of the hedge’s life where it is finally time to begin shaping. To do this use hedge shears, manual or electric and trim to the desired shape, even before the hedge is fully grown to the proper height.

The reasoning behind this is to build a stable lower base of the hedge and when allowed to grow uncontrollably, it will be too late and lower branches will be obscured by shading. Additionally this philosophy applies to the shrub throughout its lifespan. By keep tops more narrow and allowing the lower portions of the hedge more growth the base will be firmed up.

But as the hedge continues to grow, keep shaping as desired and trim until reaching the perfect height and size for your landscape.

Cane Style Bushes

One popular piece of landscaping which many gardeners and homeowners struggle to properly prune are cane-type bushes. These hardy plants: hydrangeas and forsythias for example, will send new canes up from their roots structures every year and are typically fast growing plants. We advise pruning/removing the thickest(oldest) cane wood each year to control the height of the bush.

You will want to remove about ⅓ of the total canes to let in light as well and control the spread of the plant as well. If you’ve neglected pruning a cane bush for much too long and the bush is growing out of control, you are also able to cut off all the canes and start fresh. The robust root structure sprout new shoots and within a year or two you will have a beautiful new bush decorating your yard.. You'll have a nice new bush in a year or two.

Pruning Evergreens

The beauty of evergreens when it comes to planning out a proper yard are in both their hardiness and relative ease. Evergreens, unlike many other plant species typically grow to fit their allotted space. With small amounts of yearly pruning and perhaps chopping a few down for a killer Christmas tree, you’ll need a good deal less effort than many other trees and bushes may require.

That said however, there are two primary types of evergreen branching patterns that the gardener or landscaper must consider when pruning: random branching and whorled branching evergreens.

Random-branching evergreens, such as yew, juniper and arborvitae need to be pruned in much the same way as the flowering trees and shrubs we discussed earlier. You will want to use heading cuts made to encourage dense foliage growth evergreens are so revered for while also making thinning cuts near the trunk to maintain tree shape. The big difference between  evergreens and other types of plants however is in needle and branch growth. Heading cuts will only lead to new branch growth when the rest of the branch has living needles growing on it, else it will die.

Alternatively, when dealing with more common whorled evergreens like firs, spruces, and of course pines it will be slightly more challenging. Plants of this variety have pale buds, also know as candles, that grow at the tips of the branch during spring. With these simply use your hands to pinch off the new, light growths while they remain soft and easily removed in order to lead to a denser, more desirable tree in the future. Another key difference between whorled and random branched evergreens is in the use of thinning cuts. Here be sure to avoiding thinning near the trunk as this will lead to dead snag and ultimately harm the tree.

Fruit and Berry Plants

Let’s face, fruit’s fantastic. If you haven’t already started planting luscious fruit trees and bushes in your yard for years of summer sweetness it’s time you start.

Most fruit producing plants have to be pruned and maintained while still dormant to set budding for the next season fruity rewards.

Unlike most flowering plants, fruit trees and berries will gradually decline and die unless they are treated with proper care and pruned consistently. The primary reason for this is that most fruiting bearing plants require higher amounts of energy to flower and bear fruits. Any diverted and unnecessary waste will hold them back ever more and harm the following years. Fruit plants are also notoriously challenging to protect from pests. From bugs biting into berries to squirrels poaching peaches, it’s an added challenge and requires additional work but the rewards can certainly be sweet...pun intended.

Pruning Rose Bushes

Roses can be a thorn in your side or the crowning beauty of your garden, it all comes down to pruning. For most young rose bushes look to start the season’s pruning just after the bush begins to break its dormant state after those final spring frosts. This will change depending on where you live but generally will fall between January and April and can be easily observed in the yard. Despite this however it still is a good idea to visit your local nursery. Gardeners and local experts will be able to give you more specific pruning and timing advice based on experience and your particular rose variety for the best most beautiful results.

If however you’re dealing with older, more mature roses, it’s important to prune after full bloom. Doing so opens the options for growth and changes to the bush and leads to the hardiest results.

The first step in maximizing your rose bushes is always removal of dead and damaged stalks and canes. These are the shriveled, blacken stalks that contrast so sharply with the growth and life of the remainder. Simply remove entire stalks or cane as appropriate(¼” above bud).

Next prune back any suckers(new plant shoots) which are away from the main body to keep the nutrients in the main body of the bush. Dig up the roots and cut back at the primary point rather than pruning at ground level as suckers are stubborn and will return unless properly cut.

Then for general pruning purposes, consider what your goals are with the roses you’re tending. For smaller quantity of largest, magnificent blooms you should focus the resource of the bush. This means cutting back to to 3-4 canes of no more than 10”. Alternatively keeping up to a dozen canes under two feet or so will yield a larger, fuller bush next season. Lastly if you’d like more beautiful but short stemmed roses, prune out about ⅓ of the rose bush and you should be happy with the results.

Closing Thoughts

In wrapping up our tactical guide to better gardening results for your and yard, we at Planted Perfect would like to thank you again for choosing our company and purchasing our products.

As a company dedicated to empowering gardeners to achieve better, more envy-inducing yards and landscaping results, we’re committed to putting quality and performance above all else. We built Planted Perfect to help average to avid gardeners enjoy better, more beautiful plants, gardens and greenery in their lives. That’s our goal, a great experience for you and the reason we’re building guides, resources and better gardening products.

If you are interested in connecting with us and joining our growing community of growers and gardeners throughout the country, please visit our Facebook and enjoy the free gardening tips and inspiration shared and even send us images of your gorgeous greenery. We’d love to showcase your success!