From the Desk of Ed Hume: Pruning Trees

January 20, 2010 at 12:00 AM 2 comments

January and February are excellent months to prune many trees and shrubs.  The deciduous fruit, flowering, and shade trees as well as the deciduous shrubs are generally pruned at this time of year as it is during their dormant season.  The ultimate size, bushiness and vitality of trees and shrubs are in fact determined by pruning.  Proper pruning also results in better flower production and more berries or fruit on these type plants.

Trees and shrubs have natural growing tendencies, so before you ever start pruning, study the natural growth habit and prune accordingly.  Improper pruning can ruin the shape of either trees or shrubs.  Use hand pruners for pruning small branches, lopping shears for small-to-medium-sized branches, pole pruners to tip high tree branches, and a pruning saw to cut medium-to-large branches.  Prune out any dead or decayed branches to healthy growth to eliminate the chance of the continuing spread of insects or disease that might have caused the condition.  Criss-crossing branches and branches that rub together should also be removed.  Good air circulation and plenty of light exposure also contribute in great measure to the growth and health of most garden plants.  Pruning or pinching out tangled or crowded growth will help provide better light exposure and air circulation for your plants.

You can determine the direction of growth of any plant by where the pruning cut is made.  For example, by pruning just above a growth bud on the outside of the stem, you will force that bud to develop and the new growth will then be outward.  In most cases this tends to open up the plant and allows for better light exposure and air circulation.  By pruning above an inside bud, you encourage the new growth inward.  This method is often used to encourage bushiness.  Long water sprouts and suckers should be removed as they appear, as this new tender growth robs the tree or shrub of needed food energy.

One of the biggest mistakes often made is pruning at the wrong time of the year, thus removing potential flowers or fruit.  Here is an easy guide to follow:

Spring-flowering Plants: Prune immediately after their normal flowering.

Summer-flowering Plants: Prune during the Winter or earliest Spring.

Evergreens: This includes junipers and conifers.  Prune as their growth starts to develop in April or May.

Fruit Trees: Prune during the Winter dormant season.  Stone fruits (apricots/peaches/plums/etc.) should be pruned in either late Fall or earliest Spring, all others should be trimmed during the Winter.

Hedges: Trimmed during their growing season, on a cool cloudy day.  They should not be pruned after mid-August so that the new growth has time to mature before Winter sets in.

This is a very general pruning schedule.  If you are in doubt as to when or how to prune a particular tree or shrub, your local library or nearest nursery or garden center will usually have any one of a number of pruning books adaptable to your area.

One last word: NEVER PRUNE FOR THE SAKE OF PRUNING! ONLY prune those plants that need pruning!


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2 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Lance Manus  |  March 10, 2010 at 5:10 PM

    Hi Ed

    My wife and I purchased a home in Nov of last year and there are three trees that need to be pruned. I don’t know what kind they are but the limbs are in the power lines. My question is would it be to late to prun them now in March? The limbs that I would like to take out are right about 2 inches in dia. Would it be ok to do it now even with the new growth startinig to show.

    Thank You

    • 2. edhume  |  March 11, 2010 at 3:16 PM

      Hi Lance,

      Yes, but this is one job you would want to do as soon as possible. The best months for pruning deciduous trees are November through February.

      Best wishes,



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