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What and When to Prune

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What and When to Prune
Pruning Tools

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A general rule of thumb is to prune plants after their flowering period.  But, within that rule are some practical details to follow.

While the plant is still dormant, internal decisions are made about where to send the sap for best growth, and when possible, plants should be pruned when dormant.  However, for spring blooming plants, pruning during dormancy will remove flowering/fruiting shoots and that is not what you want.  Spring bloomers should be pruned after the flowers fade.

For other plants, a few words about when NOT to prune.  

  • Never prune shrubs and trees when they are in the process of leafing out or losing leaves.  

  • Pruning while plants are leafing out just wastes the plant's energy.  

  • Pruning when leaves are falling confuses the plant so it thinks it must be spring and starts trying to grow again instead of settling down for it's winter nap.  

That said, let's get on to the details.

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Late Winter-Early Spring

  • This is the best time to prune most plants because it is before growth begins.

  • Prune a few of the oldest canes from all mature shrubs down to the ground.

  • Trim deciduous hedges wider at the base, narrower at the top.

  • From dormant fruit trees - remove weak, broken and crowded branches.

  • Head back branches that have flower buds.

  • In spring, prune evergreens of winter damaged wood and discolored foliage.

  • Avoid pruning frozen wood.

Instructions For Pruning

Apple Prune moderately. Trim for low head. Keep main branches well spaced around tree.
Azalea To renew old plants, fertilize well for one year. Then in spring, remove any damaged or overgrown canes.
Cherry Prune moderately, lightly prune the most vigorous shoots.
Grape Heavily prune old wood back to the main vine. Cut previous year's growth back to four or five buds.
Peach Prune for low, ball-shaped top at a clean trunk. Vigorously prune one half of previous year's growth. Keep center of tree open for good air circulation.
Pear Prune lightly each year. Thin excess branches to encourage a spreading tree. Prune young tree to a central leader.
Plum Prune moderately and a little each year at the crown to keep shoots coming on.
Barberry Prune lightly after flowering to restore shape.
Elderberry After fruiting, remove some of the oldest shoots at the ground, or cut back an old plant hard to force a new crop of canes.
Hydrangia Prune Hills-of-Snow variety back to the ground. For other varieties, remove weak and dead growth and cut flowering stems back to two buds.
Roses (Hybrid, Tea and Perpetual) After frosts, cut away dead and weak growth and shorten remaining canes to four or five buds.
Snowberry Cut out old twiggy canes. Cut back last season's growth of remaining parts to three buds.

Late Spring-Early Summer

  • This is the season of greatest growth.

  • Remove some of the oldest canes of mature shrubs after flowering.  Pinch out tips to encourage branching.

  • Freely trim narrow-leaf evergreens of new growth.

  • Remove dead flowers from broad-leaf evergreens to prevent formation of seed pods.

  • Pinch any buds that may be starting unwanted growth.

Instructions For Pruning

Azalea Prune for shape after all blooming has stopped.
Deutzia Prune lightly to remove a few older branches and dead twigs after blooming has stopped.
Dogwood After flowering, remove dead wood.  Other types, prune dead wood only to preserve natural shape.
Forsythia After flowering, remove a few older branches. For old, neglected plants, cut back entire plant to about one foot, leave three to five canes.
Honeysuckle Cut some of the oldest wood to the ground every 4-5 years. Pinch shoots to encourage branching.
Mountain Laurel Prune lightly. Pinch off clusters of spent blossoms. Remove a few old branches at the ground to induce new growth from roots.
Privet In April, cut back hard to rejuvenate old plants.
Rhododendron Same as Mount Laurel.
Roses (Climbing) After flowering, prune one half of the old growth at the ground. Keep new shoots for next year's flowers.
Pine/Spruce Cut back candles on side of branches of young trees to one half or less after needles have expanded but before hardening.

  • Summer pruning entails removal of plant parts that are actively at work.
  • Shear hedges regularly for appearance.
  • Prune some lower branches from shade trees to develop clean trunks.
  • Always be ready to pinch tips of leafy shoots, but not until after flowering.
  • Limit pruning done late in the summer as new growth may be damaged by the coming low temperatures.

Instructions For Pruning

Apple Prune to encourage good structure growth and support.
Blackberry Cut back new shoots to approximately three and one half feet.
Crabapple Cut away weak internal shoots and crowded branches to a crotch. Thin out weeping and spreading forms to accentuate their growth patterns.
Holly Prune any time of the year to restore shape.
Raspberry Head back new canes to approximately 22 inches. Remove spent canes and excess shoots.
Roses Prune lightly to shorten shoots only. Remove faded flowers (except for species roses).
Privet Starting in June, trim to shape three times at six week intervals.
Yew Trim to maintain shape.
Wild Cherry Prune very lightly. Trim lower branches and burn the wilted foliage.

  • Prune shade trees all winter for general shaping and to repair damage.

  • Prune shrubs once more in September, especially to remove basal suckers.

  • Avoid pruning evergreens.

  • When removing heavy limbs, use proper safety procedures.

Instructions For Pruning

Honeysuckle Remove gnarled and diseased old wood.
Mock Orange Remove a few of the oldest canes every three to four years.
Peony (Herbaceous) Cut to the ground as leaves mature and look dry.
Roses (Tea and Hybrid) Lightly prune to prevent wind whipping and storm damage.
Fir Use sharp tools to remove diseased or injured branches during very cold weather only.


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