Pruning- Basic Pruning Cuts and When to Prune Trees

Pruning involves knowing basic pruning cuts and when to prune your trees or shrubs. The time to prune trees is dependent on the type of tree you have and its bloom time. Here is a tree pruning guide to follow for different types of pruning cuts, when to prune different types of trees throughout different seasons. At times, your plants may need some special pruning techniques to help their growth.


Pruning promotes tree growth

Why Prune?

Tree pruning stimulates growth in woody plants, just as heading and pinching back stimulates flower and foliage production in herbaceous plants. This basic principle, combined with the blooming period of flowering plants, governs the pruning time.

Usually any major pruning is done shortly before the growing season to help promote new growth. Light pruning or late-season pruning encourages less vigorous growth. You should avoid pruning after midsummer before the onset of dormancy.

Pruning at this time can damage a plant and cause a spurt of tender new growth that may not have time to harden enough to withstand the winter temperatures. Here is a list of pruning cuts followed by info on when to prune Evergreen and Deciduous Trees.


The shaping of trees, shrubs, and hedges requires applications of specific pruning cuts, and deciduous plants are pruned differently from evergreens. Proceed with caution because mistakes can be difficult to correct. If you cut a branch from a conifer which does not grow new shoots from old wood, and misplaced cut with result in a gapping spot in your tree. Use pruning to guide growth in directions that will enhance the form of the plant.

Pruning branches with opposite buds such as maple and ash, cut straight across in a line that just clears the bud tips. This will result in fairly uniform growth of both buds.

Pruning branches with alternate buds- Try to find a bud that is pointing in the direction that you want your branch to grow. Make your cut about 1/4” above the bud and on an angle parallel with that bud. There is no need to apply tree wound dressing to cuts, whether small or large.

*When pruning with a loper or with pruning shears, place the blade side nearer the part you wish to save. Cut just outside the branch collar at the angle shown. This will help you avoid leaving a stub and will promote quick healing of the wound.

Removing an end bud or shoot- This will stimulate dormant buds below it to grow, producing side shoots and creating a bushier plant. If you allow end buds to remain, they will actually inhibit the growth of side buds, and the stem will continue to grow mainly from the tip.

When to Prune Your Evergreens and Deciduous trees and Shrubs


In spring, prune:

  • Winter and snow damage before active growth begins.
  • Pines, firs, spruces, and other conifers to encourage dense branching and improve shape by shearing the light green new growth in early spring. Cut off the tips or half the new growth of pine shoots, or candles.
  • To slow or dwarf the development of coniferous evergreens, prune new growth once or twice more at intervals of a week. This will also help avoid unsightly cuts.
  • Plants that bloom on new wood (many of which flower in summer). To encourage flowering, prune old wood in late winter or early spring before growth begins.
  • To renovate overgrown broad-leaved shrubs, prune no more than one-third fo the total green foliage in one season.

In summer, prune:

  • Plants that bloom on old wood (many of which bloom in spring). Prune jsut after the flowers have faded, and then let the plants grow new branches and flower buds that will bloom the following season.
  • To shape or slow the growth of broad-leaved evergreens. Prune in early summer, after flowering. Prune hollies in mid-to late summer.

In fall and winter, prune:

  • Coniferous evergreens, when removing branches to correct shape or to thin congested growth.
  • Lightly for holiday greens (this will not harm the plants).


In spring, prune:

  • Plants that bloom on new wood (many of which flower in summer). Prune them before new growth begins in late winter or early spring, to promote flowering.

In summer, prune:

  • Plants that bloom on old wood (many of which bloom in spring). Prune immediately after the blooms fade to avoid cutting off newly formed flower buds and to simulate growth of more buds for next year’s bloom.
  • Young foliage plants (in early summer) to encourage dense branching. Cut back by half the succulent stems that are beginning to grow lateral shoots.
  • To slow or dwarf growth in summer after the seasonal growth is complete.
  • To control height when plants have reached the desired size, after the new growth has fully developed. (Extend the cuts back a bit into the older wood).
  • Trees that bleed, such as maples when dormant.

In fall and winter prune:

  • Trees when dormant, to shape and train.
  • To renovate overgrown shrubs, when dormant.

Any time, prune:

  • Dead, diseased, or damaged wood (Prune dead wood before leaves fall, otherwise, you may have a hard time distinguishing it from dormant wood.)
  • Lightly, for indoor use as decorative greens, flower, and winter branches.
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