How to Prune Landscape Plants

Overview

When you plant a tree or a shrub, it's often difficult to imagine that it will one day grow into a large one. As time flies by, if all goes well, that little plant can become overgrown and will need some pruning. If you start trimming your trees and shrubs when they are young, it can help to keep them compact, bushy and healthy. For older, larger trees, evaluate the size of the pruning job before you begin: if the job requires a chain saw and a tall ladder, you'd be wise to consider hiring a professional arborist.

Step 1

Prune most landscape plants during their dormant season, from late fall through midwinter. Wait for deciduous trees to lose their leaves before you undertake any pruning. First look for dead, broken and diseased branches and then prune them back to their branch collar, which is a slightly raised area where the branch grows from the main trunk. You'll need a good tree saw for larger branches.

Step 2

Snip off the ends of shoots on shrubs to encourage a bushy form. You can do this with your fingernails if the shoots are still green and succulent. Otherwise, use your clippers to snip off just the tips of the shrub's shoots all around the plant. You can also use hedge clippers to remove the tips of shoots, especially if your plant forms a hedge.

Step 3

Cut all water sprouts (also called suckers) from the base of fruit trees and some other trees. Cut suckers all the way back to the main trunk, but be careful not to nick the trunk with your clippers or loppers. Also cut off branches that have grown 2 feet or less above ground level.

Step 4

Prune long, spindly branches to remove about 1/3 of their length. Making these "stiffening cuts" helps the plant to develop stronger branches and will cause your plant to have a rounder shape.

Step 5

Deadhead perennial flowers by cutting all flower stalks back to the main stalk. Some flowering plants, such as penstemon, benefit from "renewal pruning," where you cut most of the plant to the ground. If your plant has healthy medium-sized branches, allow them to remain but cut off about 1/3 of their length.

Tips and Warnings

  • Don't wait until early spring to prune most plants because that is the time when they begin sending out new growth. If you prune at this time of year, you might be cutting off flower buds that will turn into fruit or attractive blooms. If you suspect that your plant has any type of disease, sterilize your cutting tool after each cut. Use one part of chlorine bleach to nine parts water and then dip a clean rag into the solution. Wipe your blades with this solution after every cut.

Things You'll Need

  • Clippers
  • Loppers
  • Saw (if needed)
  • Hedge clippers (if needed)
  • Ladder (optional)
  • Bleach (optional)
  • Water (optional)
  • Bucket (optional)

References

  • North Carolina State University: Pruning Shrubs
  • Tree Boss: Tree Trimming
  • Tree Help: How to Prune a Tree
  • University of Minnesota: Pruning Trees and Shrubs
Keywords: trees shrubs, pruning cutting trimming, landscape maintenance

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.