Garden Advice

How to Prune Trees and Shrubs

Spring is here, which means that it’s time to sharpen up your pruning skills! Rainfall and heavy snow might have damaged the trees in your garden and it is your job to help them recover from the winter stress. 

Even though it might seem scary to purposely cut the plant, tree pruning is quite natural. There is nothing to be afraid of. By reducing unwanted and damaged materials, you will only stimulate new growth and flowering. 

So, if you:

  • Are new to gardening;
  • Have heard of tree pruning, but are still hesitant to do the job yourself;
  • Wish to know the correct pruning techniques,

Then keep on reading! In this guide, we will give you tree pruning tips that are easily suitable for both ornamental trees and shrubs.

Why prune your trees and shrubs?

Even though the majority of people have heard that tree pruning is necessary, not many of them truly understand why this landscaping technique is so important. Let’s look at the reasons.

Control of your plants’ size and shape

Trees and shrubs grow quite fast. If not taken care of, they can outgrow their space and become quite bothersome to other plants around them. 

Remove the branches that grow too close to other trees, as they might rub against one another during the growing season and get damaged. As the bark wears away, the trees become more susceptible to fungal diseases and pest infestations.

Moreover, overgrown branches can cause shading. If the tree blocks a substantial amount of sunlight, the plants around will produce less energy than they need for healthy growth. Heavy shade can even be lethal for some plants. Unless you have shade-tolerant plants in your garden, it is better to reduce the amount of shade by pruning your trees.

Safety reasons 

Another very important reason for controlling your tree size is safety. Dry branches and limbs can easily break during storms and potentially cause physical damage to your house. By removing the dry materials, you protect your property from accidental damage.

Also, if the trees are located too close to the gutters, leaves and debris can cause excessive build-up in the gutters. If they are clogged and rainwater has nowhere to go, it might penetrate the areas under your roof, causing damage and leaks. Meaning you’ll have to clean the gutters more often. Even though gutter cleaning is a relatively easy procedure, it is better to remove the overhanging branches to avoid the recurrence of the problem.

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Stimulation of new growth

You might have heard that pruning encourages plants to grow; however, not everyone understands the science behind it. 

If you look at the end of the stem, you can see a terminal bud. This bud releases a hormone that suppresses the growth of the lateral buds. Those are located along the lower part of the stem. If left untouched, the terminal bud will continue growing, slowing the growth process of the rest of the buds.

By cutting off the terminal bud, you will encourage the lateral buds to grow. These shoots will start branching out, creating a bushier and fuller look.

Improvement of the plants’ structure

In a forest, trees compete with each other for the site’s light, therefore they have a strong trunk and tall crowns. Unlike in nature, the trees in our gardens don’t have competition around them. Because of that, your trees might develop structural defects in the early years of their growth. Imagine the risks a bent tree can pose to you and your house. To maintain a healthy shape, your trees must be regularly pruned.

Choosing the right tree and shrub pruning tools

Whether you are a garden hobbyist or a master of the horticulture craft, you will need a good pair of shears. Below, you can find a list of the most common pruning tools that you might need to purchase, before moving to the actual pruning.

  • Secateurs – This tool is a must-have for any gardener. The ergonomic shape makes secateurs perfect for everyday use. When choosing one, you should keep in mind the thickness of your plants. Bypass secateurs are ideal for softer tissue, whereas anvil secateurs will serve you well when cutting a woody stem. 
  • Pruning saw – Best used for removing smaller branches up to 5 cm thick. Pay attention to the sharpness of the blades, as clean, precision cuts will ensure easier healing of your trees.
  • Long reach pruner – Allows you to reach taller branches on trees or shrubs. However, it is important to note that a long reach pruner won’t cut thick materials. The branches shouldn’t be more than 3 cm thick. 
  • Loppers – Two-handed tools used for cutting woody stems. Just like secateurs, they can be found as bypass and anvil types.
  • Hand shears – These are perfect for trimming hedges. The flat blades are ideal for cutting in straight lines and creating a clean shape.
  • Chainsaw – This tool doesn’t really need a formal introduction, we’d say.
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How do you prune a tree without killing it?

When it comes to pruning, gardening enthusiasts are often faced with a dilemma: “To prune or not to prune?”. That is, in fact, the question. And it’s no wonder why you might hesitate to cut your trees. After all, one incorrect cut can cause serious damage to the whole tree. 

To avoid this, you need to carefully evaluate the effect that branch removal can have on a tree. Ask yourself the following questions:

  • Will the tree be able to heal the wounds easily?
  • Will the pruning affect the leaf-bearing of the tree?
  • Will the tree become more susceptible to diseases?

If after answering the above questions you see that pruning is safe for your trees, you can proceed with it. Here’s what you need to do:

  • Examine the tree. You need to identify the base of the tree – its major branches that form the “skeleton”. You would not want to remove those branches. 
  • Use the right tools for pruning and keep the cuts at a 45-degree angle. This way, you avoid weakening the tree and prevent it from getting diseased.
  • Remove suckers and water sprouts. These small shoots only weaken the tree by using up its energy, so better remove them. 
  • Remove any dead, damaged, and diseased branches. Learn this rule by heart! First, you cut the dead wood, then you cut the damaged material, and finally, remove any branches that might infect the rest of the tree;
  • Remove branches that block air circulation. Sometimes, branches can grow close to each other and start blocking the sunlight and air from coming through. To improve the health of the tree, those need to be removed.

The pruning techniques change with the size of the limbs and branches. Here is how you need to prune branches and limbs of various sizes:

  • Reducing the size of small limbs – Those are the ones that you can easily remove with a hand tool. Once you cut off the small limbs, this will encourage new growth. That is why you need to make cuts that will direct the new growth. Reduce around one-third of the average length. The cut should be located no more than 6 mm above an outside facing bud, not forgetting about the 45-degree cut;
  • Cutting off larger branches – The cut should be located next to the branch bark ridge – the rough line of bark between the trunk and the branch collar. You should also cut at an angle without damaging the branch collar. With large branches, you want to make two cuts prior to the full removal of the branch. This is done in order to reduce the weight of the whole branch and prevent the tearing of the bark. 

At a short distance from the collar, make a parallel halfway cut. The cut should be located on the underside of the branch. Make a second cut about 2-3 cm above the first one. Continue to cut until the branch breaks loose. Remove the remaining stump. Don’t cut limbs and branches too close to the bark ridge or leave long stumps. 

How do you trim a shrub?

Pruning shrubs is not as hard as you think. You just have to remember several simple steps. By following them, you will definitely be closer to improving your plants’ health. Here is what you need to know about pruning shrubs:

  • Follow the rule of 3 Ds – remove all the Dead, Diseased and Damaged branches.
  • Remove all the twigs – if you see that some branches don’t give any shoots during their growth, simply remove them.
  • Remove branches that grow too closely – if left untrimmed, they will damage each other during the following growing season.
  • Leave clean cuts only – make sure that your tools are always sharpened, as clean cuts close faster and smoother.
  • Cut at an angle – the 45-degree angle rule is also applicable here. Slightly angled cuts prevent damage and disease. 

What is the best time to prune?

Usually, it is recommended to prune your trees when they are dormant, as it doesn’t affect the growth of the tree and it’s easier to select the branches when they are free from leaves. This is when you should prune your Dogwood, for example.

However, it is important to remember that the pruning time might vary based on the trees’ individual flowering patterns. With this in mind:

  • Evergreens and deciduous trees rarely require pruning. The only thing that you should be paying attention to is the damaged, dead, and diseased branches. Those are usually removed in late summer. Don’t prune your deciduous trees in early spring, as they might start bleeding sap.
  • Late-flowering evergreens need only light pruning in spring to maintain the aesthetic look of the plants.
  • Early-flowering shrubs bloom on the previous year’s growth and should be pruned immediately after blooming, somewhere in early spring.
  • Summer and autumn-flowering shrubs should be pruned in early to mid-spring. This way, you allow the plants to heal and flower in the same year.

When pruning your trees, always look for signs of birds and bird nesting!

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Pruning calendar

For your convenience, we have gathered the most popular garden trees and shrubs in the UK and sorted them by pruning months. Use it as a guide, when pruning your trees and shrubs.

MonthTrees to prune Shrubs and climbers to prune
JanuaryOrnamental pear (Pyrus), Beech (Fagus), Hazel (Corylus), Kilmarnock willowAucuba japonica, Deciduous barberry, Brugmansia,  Buddleja globosa, Boston ivy, Elder, Ornamental vine (Vitis), Roses (including climbing roses), Virginia creeper, Wisteria
FebruaryAcer, Ash, Crab apple (only if cold weather has passed), Quince, Eucalyptus, Willow, Nyssa sylvatica, Persian ironwood, Oak, Ornamental pear (Pyrus), Rowan, Japanese SnowbellBillardiera, Hydrangea paniculata, Summer lilac (Buddleja davidii), Chinese plumbago, Mallow, Dogwood , Hazel, Peony tree (dead shoots)
MarchCrab apple, Eucalyptus, Eucryphia, Talia (before blooming)Caryopteris clandonensis, Ceratostigma, Deciduous Ceanothus, Daphnes, Dogwood, Japanese laurels, Winter jasmine, Ivy, Hydrangea paniculata, Fuchsia, Leycesteria, Lavatera, Perovskia, Salix, Snowy mespilus, Cherry laurel, Red and white currants
AprilAny tree that has damaged material after winter frostSalix and Cornus (only at the beginning of the month), Cotinus and Elders can be stooled, Lavender, Santolina, Curry plant, Fuchsia, Camellia japonica
MayYoung mimosa treesPenstemon, Caryopteris and Fuchsia, Evergreen hedges, Flowering quince, Mexican orange blossom (Choysia), Currants, Clematis (right after blooming), Roses (only diseased material)   
JuneDeciduous magnolias, PaulowniaPrivet, Box, Lonicera nitida, Rhododendrons, Rosemary

after flowering: Deutzia, Beauty bush, Weigela, Mock orange
JulyStone fruit trees: plums, cherries, peaches and apricots; almondsWeigela and Mock orange (after flowering), Tree peony (dead flowers and damaged material), Roses (dead flowers)
AugustTime to remove large trees that are causing troubles like drought or waterlogging and remove stumpsClimbing shrubs (after flowering), Lavender (after flowering), Hebes, Rambling roses, Summer fruiting Raspberries
SeptemberBirch, HornbeamFinal trim for the hedges before winter, Common jasmine (after flowering), Blackberry, Blackcurrant, Pyracantha
OctoberWalnut, AcerWinter pruning Wisteria, Pyracantha, Climbing roses
Buddleja davidii, Cornus alba, Lavatera – to prevent wind damage
November – DecemberPerfect time for tree pruning, including fruit tree trimming. Exceptions are Prunus species, like cherries, plums, apricots, almonds and tender perennials.
Also, it is a good time to start planning your tree surgeon visit, as trees are best removed when dormant.
This period is perfect for pruning and tidying up deciduous shrubs and hedges, as they enter the dormant season.

Still hesitating to prune trees and shrubs yourself?

Entrust this job to Fantastic Services! With the help of trusted gardeners, your green space will turn into your personal heaven on earth. The specialists we work with will prune your trees and shrubs according to their individual growth patterns and create the desired shape. Or if you have any trees that disturb your everyday life and need removal, you can always count on the tree felling team. So what are you waiting for? Book your tree surgery consultation online right now! 

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  • Tree pruning is needed for controlling the size and shape of your plants, preventing your house from physical damage, stimulating new growth, and improving the structure of your plants.
  • It is important to use only sharpened pruning tools and choose them according to the size of the plants.
  • Removal of dead, damaged, and diseased branches and limbs can be done at any time of the year.
  • Usually, pruning is performed when trees and shrubs are dormant, in winter. However, there are exceptions, like apple and pear trees that are susceptible to silver leaf.

We hope you found this information helpful! Let us know your thoughts or questions in the comments down below.

Image source: Shutterstock / Alexander Raths

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