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How to Prune Scots Pine


Do not cut off the top of an evergreen. Cutting the top subjects the tree to decay and can produce and unsightly growth pattern.

Scots pine, scientific name Pinus sylvestris, is a coniferous evergreen. Originating in northern Europe, this fragrant evergreen was brought to North America where it is called Scotch pine and is customarily used for Christmas trees. Prune Scots pine like other pine trees to keep the tree healthy, but perform additional pruning if the desire is to create a conical shape favored for Christmas trees.

Pruning Process

Prune long heavy branches by making three cuts with a tree pruning saw for branches greater than one inch in diameter. The first two cuts are to reduce the amount of weight on the branch by taking off the outer portion. Make the first cut halfway through the underside of the branch about 12 inches from the trunk. Make the second cut through the topside of the branch about an inch to the outside of the first cut. The outside portion of the limb will then come off. Make the third cut at a 45-degree angle just outside the branch collar (ridge that forms between the branch and the trunk of the tree).

Prune smaller branches with the pruners or loppers, depending on the diameter of the cut.

Cut high branches using a pole trimmer/saw.

Young Scots Pine

Prune Scots pine after it has been planted to remove branches that cross over other branches or to remove new growth that would become crowded because of larger existing branches. Use pruners to make the cut at about a 45-degree angle on the outside of the branch collar.

Cut the leader (the high upward tip) of a small Scots pine so it is about 10 inches long. If this is not done when the tree is planted, wait until late winter to combine this pruning with other pruning.

Look at the branches around the top of tree. They should be cut so they are about 5 inches shorter than the leader.

Continue down the outside of the tree, pruning the branches to create a conical shape. After you prune Scots pine, the space between the whorls will be shorter as the tree grows, giving the tree a fuller appearance. A whorl is comprised of 3 to 6 branches around the trunk of the tree, all at about the same level.

Maintain the conical shape as the tree grows by shearing annually (pruning just the tips that extend out) if needed.

Damage or Disease Care

Cut out broken or dead branches as they occur. Dead branches are obvious for the lack of needles.

Cut diseased branches when the weather is dry. Make the cut in a healthy area about 6 inches from the diseased area. Disease may show evidence of tiny holes, live insects or drops of white resin.

Dip the cutter in alcohol or bleach after each cutting when removing diseased branches.

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