Different plants have different pruning needs, and you must time your pruning efforts according to specific plant growth and needs. Regardless of what you are pruning and the time of year you perform the task, simplify your pruning efforts by using a dropcloth. When you prune with a drop cloth beneath the tree or plant, everything you trim off falls directly onto the dropcloth.
Spread the dropcloth beneath the tree or shrub you will prune. Make sure to cover the entire area where branches and limbs may fall so that everything you cut off falls directly onto the dropcloth.
Set up the stepladder if you will need it to reach high areas of a tree.
Survey the tree or the shrub to find dead or diseased branches. When you find branches that appear dead or unhealthy, use the pruning shears or the lopper shears to cut these branches off where they intersect with the next largest branch. These branches will fall directly down onto the dropcloth as you cut them.
Look for congested areas of the tree or shrub where many stems or branches are growing together and crossing each other. Often the stems and branches in a congested area will rub against each other, and this will create wounds where infection can begin. Remove branches or stems that rub, and strive to open up congested areas by trimming off branches that cross (always cutting back to the point where the branches intersect with the next largest branch). Everything you cut off will accumulate on the dropcloth below.
Shape the tree or shrub by removing the growth around the outer edge. Remove as much as one-third of this outer growth at a time. Before you shape a tree or shrub; however, make sure you are pruning at the proper time of the year for your specific plant. If the tree or shrub will blossom early in the season, wait to shape until after it blossoms. If the tree or shrub will blossom later in the growing season, shape in the beginning of the growing season. Allow everything you cut away to fall down onto the drop cloth.
Pull the dropcloth out from under the tree or shrub when you finish pruning. Drag the dropcloth near your compost bin and empty it directly into the compost bin, or drag the dropcloth to a garbage can and empty it directly into the garbage can. Fold the dropcloth and put it away.