Pruning is critical to a tree’s health and structural integrity.

Pruning plants isn’t just about shaping them for aesthetic reasons. The proper pruning techniques also impact the plant’s ability to grow and sustain itself. During the winter months, reshape your shrub or tree to remove dead or old wood. In the summer flowering season, I recommend pruning your plant between each flush of flowers to maintain the overall shape of the plant and to boost the amount of repeat flowering.

How to Prune Trees and Shrubs

Besides large trees, most pruning jobs can be done on your own. The main goal of pruning is to remove unwanted branches without disturbing the plant’s foundation. For branches that are dead or in poor health, make a cut approximately six inches into the healthy wood. To tell if a branch is healthy, scrape back an area of bark to see the underlying color. Green means the branch is alive, while brown indicates the need to prune. If a branch is simply broken, make a clean cut at the nearest bud or crotch, the area where the branch meets the trunk or another branch.

Importance of Pruning

Pruning is an essential part of plant maintenance. It is typically done to identify and remove broken, diseased, dead, or weak branches. In some instances, live branches are removed in a technique known as thinning in an attempt to increase air circulation and sunlight within a canopy. In the case of young trees, pruning can help a tree grow and develop a strong structure and an aesthetically pleasing form. If pruning is started on a tree while it’s young, it will usually require less pruning as it matures.

Signs That a Plant Needs Pruning

There are several signs that could indicate the need for pruning. Branches that are overcrowded or lopsided may need to be removed to prevent a safety hazard. You will also want to inspect your plant for signs of disease. Branches that appear decayed or have little to no growth should be removed to stop the possible spread of disease. Plants that show extensive amounts of disease may need to be removed completely. If you are unsure, get the opinion of a professional arborist.

How to Make Clean Cuts

Making clean cuts is crucial if you want your tree to recover quickly. There are two primary types of pruning cuts: heading and thinning. Heading is when you cut back a portion of a branch just above a side branch or healthy bud. Thinning is the removal of a limb or branch at its base. To prevent tearing of the bark and tissue, it’s best to use a standard three-cut approach when pruning. First, make a small undercut several inches from the branch collar. Next, remove the limb above the first cut. Finally, cut just outside the branch collar to remove the rest of the stub.

Common Mistakes to Avoid

Pruning mistakes are common among beginners. One of the most common mistakes made is pruning too much. As a general rule of thumb, you should never trim more than 20 percent of a plant at one time. You simply want to prune small sections around the plant to maintain balance without removing too many healthy limbs and branches. Another common mistake is not pruning enough or at all. Pruning is essential to help prevent the spread of disease and to keep damage in check. Inspect your plants regularly and prune as necessary to maintain their health in the long term.