How to Prune Garden Plants


All perennial plants need a yearly haircut. From wildflowers such as penstemon to large trees, pruning is a way to keep your garden looking neat and tidy and encourages your plants to grow healthy new foliage and prolific fruit or flowers. Winter is the best time to prune many plants, such as fruit trees, because it is their dormant season. But you can help all plants to remain strong and healthy when you prune off dead leaves, spent flowers, broken branches and diseased parts.

Step 1

Prune small plants such as flowering shrubs, tomato vines and wildflowers any time you want to keep them compact and when they have dead leaves, spent flowers or broken branches. Cut yellowing tomato leaves from the bottom of the plant and deadhead the spent flowers from wildflowers and flowering annuals.

Step 2

Prune fruit trees and other trees in winter when they are dormant. Cut back all suckers or water sprouts that grow from the base of trees and remove branches that occur closer to the ground than about 2 feet. When you prune dead, broken or diseased branches, cut all the way to the branch collar but don't cut into the collar. The branch collar is a bulbous area where the branch connects to the trunk. You needn't use pruning tar or other sealant products on areas that you have cut.

Step 3

Make stiffening cuts on trees that have long, slender limbs that can bend or break easily. To do this, cut off spindly limbs about 1/3 of the way from the tip of the limb to the main branch or trunk---this practice helps to strengthen the limbs and creates a more globe-shaped tree, which is desirable for some species, such as almonds.

Step 4

Shear hedges or shrubs with hedge clippers to keep them the size and shape you want.

Step 5

Head back shrubs by pruning all branches back to where a bud occurs to force shoots to grow and create a more dense plant.

Tips and Warnings

  • Avoid pruning most plants in late summer because the new growth that results after pruning is susceptible to frost damage. If you suspect that your plant has any disease, sterilize the cutting tool with 1 part bleach mixed with 9 parts water after each cut.

Things You'll Need

  • Clippers
  • Tree saw
  • Hedge clippers
  • Goggles (optional)
  • Gloves
  • Ladder (optional)
  • Bleach (optional)
  • Bowl or small bucket (optional)
  • Compost pile


  • North Carolina State University: Pruning Shrubs
  • Fine Gardening: Pruning Tomatoes
  • Tree Boss: Tree Trimming
  • University of Minnesota Extension: Pruning Trees and Shrubs
Keywords: trees pruning, fruit vegetables, shrubs hedges

About this Author

Barbara Fahs lives on Hawaii island, where she has created Hi'iaka's Healing Herb Garden. Fahs wrote "Super Simple Guide to Creating Hawaiian Gardens," and has been a professional writer since 1984. She contributes to Big Island Weekly, Ke Ola magazine, GardenGuides and eHow. She earned her B.A. at UCSB and her M.A. from San Jose State University.