How to Prune Outdoor Plants


Prune outdoor plants to enhance the appearance of the surrounding landscape and give the garden a neat look. Irrespective of whether you have young trees, bushes or woody plants, proper pruning is essential to conform to the natural or artificial shape, invigorate growth, improve quality of fruit, nuts or flowers, maintain health and allow sunlight and air to reach branches growing in the middle and the soil below. The best time to prune most outdoor plants is late winter when the plant is dormant, or early spring just before new growth begins.

Step 1

Wear gardening gloves, a long sleeved shirt and pants to prevent scratching your skin. Begin pruning by removing dead, dying or damaged branches or parts of outdoor plants. Look for brown foliage that snaps easily as an indication they are dead. Collect these in a tarp or wheelbarrow.

Step 2

Locate the central leader, which is the main trunk or stem of the plant before you begin pruning parts of plants that are alive. Primary branches grow from the central leader, and give rise to other shoots as the plant grows and develops. Identify the primary branches so you do not cut them for risk of causing serious injury to the plant.

Step 3

Stand on one side of the plant and begin pruning off the sides. Make sharp, straight cuts with loppers to remove branches that extend outwards. Work your way all around the plant but make sure you do not remove more than 1/3 of each branch length. Prune the sides less aggressively if removing the foliage and branches only to enhance the appearance of a plant, and more aggressively if you want to bring a prolific grower down to size.

Step 4

Inspect the base of the plant (woody plant, bush and young tree) for shoots below the lowest (or first) primary branch. Snip these usually-fast-growing shoots off with handheld shears. This clears the lower part of the plant, allowing sunlight to penetrate through and reach the soil below. Also snip off shoots from the plant's roots known as suckers.

Step 5

Stand on a sturdy ladder and prune the branches and foliage at the top of the plant to widen the crown. Do not prune more than 1/3 of each branch length. Avoid pruning primary branches on bushes unless absolutely necessary.

Step 6

Thin immature or non-productive branches growing along the primary and large branches of trees to minimize damage during storms or heavy winds. Make sure you do not thin more than 1/4 of the remaining branches in one session.

Things You'll Need

  • Gardening gloves
  • Long sleeved shirt
  • Pants
  • Loppers
  • Tarp
  • Wheelbarrow
  • Shears
  • Ladder


  • Texas A&M University: Follow Proper Pruning Techniques
  • Monteran Outdoor Tips: Proper Pruning Techniques
  • Consumer Information Center: How to Prune Trees
Keywords: outdoor plant maintenance, pruning plants, pruning outdoor plants

About this Author

Tanya Khan is a freelance author and consultant, having written hundreds of thousands of words for various online and print sources. She has an MBA in Marketing but her passion lies in giving her words wings.