How to Trim Outdoor Plants


Pruning is an essential part of maintaining healthy, attractive plants. Pruning should be undertaken to train a plant, encourage plant health, restrict growth or to improve the quality of growth, including foliage, flowers or supporting branches and stems. Homeowners may also prune for safety, to improve views and to prevent future problems, such as branches poised to fall onto power lines.

Think it Through

Step 1

Plan ahead. This involves choosing plants that fit the location and conditions and thinking through the cuts you plan to make before you pick up a tool. Stop during the process to assess your work. Err on the side of caution. It is better to leave growth intact than to prune poorly or improperly.

Step 2

Prune young. It is easier to train a young plant through pruning than to attempt to correct the older growth of a plant.

Step 3

Prune to help the plant thrive. Removing flowers can force a newly planted selection to focus its energy expenditure on roots and foliage development.

Step 4

Follow the habit of the plant in question. Most bushes, shrubs and trees have a basic underlying pattern of growth. Remove branches that cross one another or cross through the center of growth. Remove branches to open spacing, where they are growing too close together or too heavily on one side of the plant.

Step 5

Prune during the time of year appropriate for the plant. Otherwise, late winter to early spring are the best general times, while late spring is one of the worst times. However, you should always prune as soon as possible when there has been damage to the plant or pest involvement. Trimming to handle disease allows you to potentially avoid use of chemical treatments.


Step 1

Use sharp tools, made to fit the size of the job. Pruning saws are used for branches too large to accommodate lopping shears. Loppers are used for 1-1/2- to 2-inch diameter branches. Hand pruning shears are made for growth 1/2 inch and smaller.

Step 2

Use a bleach (1:9 mix with water) or alcohol disinfectant on the blades of your tools between cuts when disease is a potential problem.

Step 3

Make clean, smooth cuts that do not twist and tear the bark. Do not bother with pruning paint or wound covers afterward, as these are not required in the majority of cases.

Things You'll Need

  • Hand trimmers
  • Loppers
  • Pruning saw
  • Alcohol or bleach


  • Texas A&M University Horticulture--Proper Pruning Techniques
  • University of Maine Extension--Pruning Woody Landscape Plants
  • University of Georgia Extension--Pruning Ornamental Plants

Who Can Help

  • University of Minnesota Extension--Pruning Trees and Shrubs
Keywords: remove branches, pruning shears, pruning paint

About this Author

Alice Moon has been a freelance writer for one year, writing on the Internet for over 10 years. Moon holds a B.S. in political science (Asian studies minor). She was chosen as a Smithsonian Institute intern, working for the National Zoo in Washington, DC. She traveled through Asia as part of a delegation from her university to its sister universities overseas.