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How to Trim Conifer Trees

By Tracy Morris ; Updated September 21, 2017
Conifer trees produce seeds in cones.

Conifer trees are a family of evergreen trees that reproduce through seeds that are borne on the plants in cones. Most conifers are easy to identify because the trees are evergreen with needles or flat, triangular scales instead of leaves. Examples of conifer trees include fir and spruce trees. Like many trees, conifers grown in the landscape can benefit from occasional pruning. Most conifers do not need regular pruning to maintain their shape. Instead, maintenance pruning should concentrate on removing diseased, broken or problem limbs.

Mix a sterilizing solution to clean your tools with. The solution should contain one part bleach and nine parts water. Soak a clean cloth in this solution and wipe the blades of your tools.

Sharpen your tools by drawing a sharpening stone down the length of the blades. Sharp blades will make clean pruning cuts that are less prone to bruising the limb of the tree and weakening the tree. Wear sturdy leather gloves while sharpening your tools to prevent injury.

Mark the branches that you plan to remove before pruning your tree by tying survey tape to them. Making pruning decisions while in the middle of the pruning process can cause you to remove the wrong branches. Never remove more than 30 percent of a tree’s overall growth in any pruning session.

Plan to use pruning shears on all growth that is smaller than a pencil. Use branch loppers on all growth larger than a pencil. If you train conifers when you first plant them, you will not need to remove branches that are larger than you can cut with a pair of branch loppers.

Remove branches at the point that they join the trunk by cutting downward at a 45-degree angle away from the tree. The cut should start at a point just outside the bark ridge where the limb joins the trunk and should slope away from the tree. Cut back diseased or broken branches to the nearest healthy shoot. Make the cut across the limb just in front of the point where the shoot joins the branch. The shoot will begin to grow and will become the branch’s new dominant leader.

Remove all branches that are growing so closely together that they crowd one another. Remove branches with a weak fork that is smaller than 90 degrees. Remove broken, dead or diseased branches by cutting them back to the first healthy shoot.


Things You Will Need

  • Bleach
  • Clean cloth
  • Sharpening stone
  • Leather gloves
  • Survey tape
  • Pruning shears
  • Branch loppers


  • Prune an evergreen tree in late winter or early spring. Although evergreens do not lose their leaves, they go dormant and do not grow during this time. Pruning a dormant evergreen will minimize the shock the tree will experience. This will help the tree recover faster. You may remove dead, diseased or damaged limbs at any point to preserve the health of a tree.
  • Some trees, such as juniper have a dead zone inside each limb where there are no buds. These trees must be only pruned in the live zone. If you must prune into the dead zone, you should remove the limb all the way back to the main trunk.
  • If you must train a tree by removing more than 30 percent of its growth, plan the training gradually over several years.


  • Never shear conifers so that they have a uniform surface. This makes the tree look unnatural.
  • Never prune away the top of an evergreen to limit its size. Topping a tree can weaken and eventually kill the tree.

About the Author


Tracy Morris has been a freelance writer since 2000. She has published novels and numerous online articles. Her work has appeared in national magazines and newspapers including "Ferrets," "CatFancy," "Lexington Herald Leader" and "The Tulsa World." She holds a Bachelor of Arts in journalism from the University of Arkansas.