September 10 2012

Pruning Your Shrubs and Plants

If you look out your window and see a jungle rather than a landscaped garden, it’s probably time to think about pruning. Regular pruning helps establish shapely shrubs and trees with vigorous, balanced growth. Trimmed shrubs also create structure. By pruning your garden regularly, you can keep the jungle at bay and create a template for additional landscaping.

Intimidated by the thought? Don’t worry. Pruning isn’t rocket science. It’s simply a matter of trimming certain shrubs and trees—even potted plants–so that you can:

  • Cut out weak, damaged, or dead growth
  • Rejuvenate shrubs and plants
  • Stimulate new blooms and fruit
  • Create specific shapes to your taste
  • Correct lopsided growth and improve a plant’s shape
  • Let sunlight reach the center of plants


Fortunately, pruning tools are relatively simple and inexpensive. Look for hand pruners; long-handled pruners, called loppers; a pruning saw; a hedge trimmer; and a pole pruner for high tree limbs. Depending on your garden, you may need only one—or all—of these implements.  But be careful. These tools are dangerous if handled incorrectly.

Once you’re equipped, make sure it’s the right time of year to trim your shrubs. Every plant has its particular requirements, but in the Northeast, a general rule of thumb is to prune when plants are dormant. And that means during late fall or winter. Many gardeners, however, prefer waiting until late winter so that spring growth will soon emerge on newly pruned plants.

One reason why autumn is such a good season to prune is that deciduous shrubs and trees lose their leaves and reveal their shape, making it easy to decide what needs cutting back.


People sometimes don’t realize that it’s not just what you cut from a plant that’s important, it’s also what you leave in—such as leaf buds.

To get you started, here are some pruning fundamentals:

  • Always trim a branch or shoot back to just above one or more healthy leaf buds–no more than about half an inch above. Never cut into buds. Your trim will stimulate new growth.
  • Cut off weak, damaged, or dead limbs. If in doubt whether a branch is dead, make a small scrape with your thumbnail, and if you don’t see green, it has probably died. Lop it off!
  • Trim any excessively long shoots.
  • Correct lopsided growth by lightly trimming longer shoots and aggressively pruning weak stems.
  • Sometimes you need to prune for size. If you are cutting a large limb of three or more inches, trim it back to the main trunk unless there is a good reason, such as shape, not to do so.
  • Prune evergreens, like pines and spruce, in early summer, while new growth is vigorously developing.
  • Regularly prune shrubs such as forsythia, which can accumulate masses of old, dead wood in the center. During the dormant season, cut out dead, diseased and crossing canes, and then thin the number of remaining canes by half.

Please consult your local landscaping professional if you want to learn more about what’s right for your garden..