People tell us there are few things more intimidating in the yard and landscape than pruning. You’re worried about pruning too early, too late and too much.
And sometimes, the more you read, the more hesitant you are to act. We’ve all heard stories about a well-meaning pruner who snipped off tiny buds and had no blooms. Or someone who tried to rejuvenate a shrub only to kill it.
It can happen, but not once you learn a few pruning pointers. The key is to prune by plant type, which has a lot to do with when the plant blooms or loses its leaves. So we’re here to dispel a few myths and arm you with some basic information.
And here’s the thing: if you don’t know what to do with your plant—whatever variety—just stop in, email or call us and we’ll walk you through exactly what you should do.
For now, here are some basics. You can even print out and keep in your garage or shed near your pruning tools (we love the Felco Pruner for its clean cuts and ergonomic handles if you’re in need of a go-to tool, and you can get yours in the garden center. We’re working on adding them online, too!).
And one quick rule of thumb: Prune ½-inch above a bud facing the outside of the plant, which will force new growth in that direction.
Evergreens (except Pine)
Most evergreens require little pruning, especially if you’ve chosen your plants based on mature size and have plenty of room. We believe they look best in their natural form, so follow the natural branch pattern and shape for trees, and see below for some guidance on smaller shrubs.
Before new growth begins in spring (March/April) or mid-summer when evergreens go semi-dormant.
Rather than shearing or using a pruner/trimmer all over the tree or shrub for a uniform, more formal appearance, we recommend selective pruning, one branch at a time to the branches that need it most.
Cut back to a crotch or dormant bud.
For evergreens with less of a branch pattern (arborvitaes, junipers, yews and hemlocks), you can prune up to 20% to control size and shape, but be careful not to prune to ‘the dead zone’ (the area in the middle that dies due to lack of sunlight). New growth will not regenerate from this area.
In the spring when new growth is visible.
Cut or pinch the new growth (or candle) in half. Skip cutting back to woody stems because new growth will not develop from these areas.
Deciduous trees are trees that lose their leaves in the fall and early winter. Generally, think about removing dead, damaged, crossing/rubbing or sucker branches first, then move on to light shaping.
In late winter or very early spring (Feb, Mar and early April) before you begin to see leaves. Be careful not to prune during leaf drop because this can encourage new growth just before freezing, and without enough time to harden off.
A benefit to pruning during winter is that you can see the foundational shape of the tree. It’s also much easier to clean up after pruning without leaves.
Always remove branches just above where they connect to other branches or the trunk. Leave a bit of a nub (collar) so the tree can heal from the prune.
Deciduous shrubs also lose their leaves in the fall and early winter, like deciduous trees. However, flowering shrubs will develop their buds in winter and early spring, so it’s important to know the plant type and bloom time before you prune.
For flowering shrubs, prune after flowering. For shrubs that don’t produce flowers, prune in late winter or early spring, before they develop leaves.
See Deciduous Trees
Anytime for dead, diseased or broken branches.
Remember, when in doubt, stop in with a photo of your tree or shrub and/or a leaf sample if you’re unsure of the variety. We can help you identify your plant, determine when if/when it blooms and give you tips on when and how to prune.
We’re always here to help.