Follow This Guide and Know When to Prune

Gardening and horticulture is fascinating and learning when to prune plants to encourage healthy growth will verify your green thumb.

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Pruning is all about Timing

when to prune

As many amateur gardeners have learned, pruning is more complicated than lopping off limbs whenever you "find time". Many plants require different pruning methods at different times of the year.

It's all based on when the plant is growing. You don't want to prune a plant when it's in its prime growth period or you'll risk damaging your green beauty. Typically the best time to prune is when the plant is in a state of dormancy or before it begins flowering and bearing fruit.

The timing all relates to what type of plant you need to prune. All different kinds of plants should be pruned at different times during the year in their growth cycle to optimize health and fertility of the plant.

A general rule suggests pruning most plants during late winter or early spring. There are exceptions to this rule but you'll generally be safe pruning during this time period. Fall is the worst time of year to prune most plants because the "open wounds" are susceptible to fungi growths, disease and winter kill.

Pick Your Plant

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Many plants require different pruning times. If your plant is more specific than what is stated below be sure to consult a horticulturalist if you're unsure when to prune.

  1. Deciduous trees should be pruned in late winter or early spring before their leaves begin to grow. Maples will "bleed" when pruned during these times but this won't harm the tree. Fruit trees should also be pruned in early spring.
  2. Deciduous shrubs vary for pruning season, though most should be pruned in early spring or right after the bloom. If you're restoring a "sad" plant, pruning heavily during these times will stunt the plants growth for some time, it will promote healthy growth in the long run. Do not prune these shrubs in later summer as it may cause the plant to re-flourish and can be harmed when the shock of winter hits.
  3. Evergreen trees should generally be pruned in winter, when they're dormant. Pine can also be pruned at its early summer "candle stage" when the needles grow out from the branches. This encourages a leafier tree.
  4. Prune evergreen shrubs, like yew or juniper, in early spring before new growth starts. Do not prune these plants in the fall, as this will be prone to winter injury.
  5. Roses should be pruned in early spring. Remove the dead wood from the plant to encourage stronger growth in healthier parts of the plants. Also prune annual roses right after flowering.

How to Prune

You're all set with your pruning shears and gardening gloves, but what do you do next? It helps to know a little bit about tools and plant growth before the guessing game of which branch to chop first.

Choose your Shears

Different garden shears perform slightly different duties. Most shears are made to cut up to a half inch in diameter, and try not to push them past this or you'll risk ruining your shears or your plant. Lopping shears require the use of both hands, providing more leverage against fussy branches. Hand pruning shears are more lightweight in terms of what they're capable of.

Saws are another option, though more dangerous. They may be required if you're pruning a larger plant or tree.

Make sure the Pruning Shears are sharp

You need shears that are sharp and able to make clean cuts. It's a good idea to disinfect your shears after use if pruning a diseased or infected plant to prevent it from spreading to another plant.

Prune at an Angle

The general rule of thumb when pruning is to prune at an angle. This assists healing and decreases water retention at the wound of the plant.

Remove dead, diseased and broken branches and thin the plant

You always want to promote the natural shape of the plant. Remove dead wood, diseased and broken branches first and then plan your pruning to thin the plant. On trees, branches should be spaced between 6 to 24 inches apart, depending on the type of tree. Remove sprouts growing along the trunk and interior limbs as they only suck energy and nutrients from the main part of the tree.

Check with a Horticulturist if Unsure

Precise pruning techniques vary from plant to plant, and it's always a good idea to be sure before going ahead with things. Horticulturists will usually recommend trimming the plant instead of heading back, as trimming follows the natural pattern of the plant, while heading back can start new trunks and wayward branches.

This is just a start. Learn how and when to prune your particular plant by consulting a local horticulturist or book on your specific plant. Pruning properly, at the right time of year will encourage healthy growth and a flourishing plant. Help your garden grow!

Like to keep notes on what your plants are doing? Click and Print the free Plant Notes Page.