Pruning Trees and Shrubs

Learn more about the proper times to prune trees and shrubs in your yard

Flourishing Means Cutting Back

When your trees and shrubs start to look scraggly, it's time to give them a haircut. Pruning gives healthy branches room to grow. The plant's roots can provide more nourishment, since there's less to feed. Pruning also ensures that a tree or shrub can focus on flowering and producing fruit or nuts, not just growing leaves. And a little pruning also rids the plant of unhealthy branches, which can be an entry point for diseases. Follow these easy steps to learn how to prune your trees and shrubs yourself.

Prune in Dormant Phases

In winter or very early spring, when your trees are dormant and new buds haven't formed yet, get out your pruners. In winter, without leaves or blossoms in the way, you can get a better sense of the plant's shape. In spring, after leaves have sprouted, you can remove any sucker growth you see around the base, but don't prune the rest of the tree or shrub, as the new leaves are too young replenish the energy that pruning creates a need for. If you have a shrub that blooms in the spring, prune it after the blooms have completely faded. If your shrubs bloom in the summer, do your pruning in late winter or early spring.

Watch the Weather

It's best to prune on a mild and dry day so that cold and wet conditions don't shock the newly pruned plant.

Thin Out Those Branches

The idea is to remove growth that looks weak, ill-formed, crossed or overcrowded. Your healthy branches will be healthier when they don't have to compete so much for room and nutrients. Thinning out branches allows more of the tree or shrub to absorb the sun's rays and helps control its shape. It can also prevent a tree from outgrowing its space in your landscape and invading other plants' turf.

Where to Cut

Prune trees and shrubs back to the main stem or to another branch. You can also prune back to any outward-facing buds. Make sure to use sharp pruners, and cut with the blade starting as close to the branch as possible - in other words, avoid hacking at the plant. If you're pruning to size down, be sure to give the plant a more natural-looking shape by pruning branches to different lengths.

Follow Your Tree's Lead

Watch what your trees and shrubs do in the growing season following pruning. The way they grow - or don't grow - will help give you guidance for the next time you prune. Always follow how the plant naturally wants to grow.

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