A simple guide to pruning trees and shrubs.

On this page 

  • Pruning Decorative trees and shrubs,
  • How to prune Flowering shrubs,
  • Fruit trees Apple, Pear and Plums,
  • Exceptions to the 'deciduous tree' rule,
  • Reasons we prune trees and shrubs,
  • Pruning fruit bushes,
  • Pruning tools.
All about pruning
All about pruning

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Why do we need to prune trees and shrubs

The reasons we prune trees and shrubs are:

  • Pruning to reduce shade and let more light into a shady garden.
  • Pruning trees for safety in a domestic garden by removing or trimming branches that could fall and cause injury or damage. 
  • Pruning for health by removing diseased or insect-infested wood, thinning the crown, removing crossing and rubbing branches, to encourage trees to develop a strong healthy structure and lessen the risk of damage during high wind or heavy snowfall.
  • Pruning for aesthetics involves shaping the tree into a feature that fits your own Idea of what looks best in your garden, and with some trees and shrubs, to stimulate flowering. Topiary is an extreme example of pruning to create a desired or unnatural effect.
  • Pruning to increase fruit production, more about this later. 
  • Suckers,   Some trees grafted onto special root-stocks, produce suckers, these can exhaust the tree, pull them up from the point where it joins the root.
  • Young trees are normally pruned with the aim of  producing a strong structure as the tree grows.  When the tree has matured, the emphasis switches to maintaining its health and appearance.

 

How to prune without damaging the branch.

Cuts are made at a node, that's the point at which one branch or twig grows from another.  Put simply the first buds of spring grow into twigs (nodes) these twigs grow on and produce buds that grow into twigs (more nodes) and this carries on through the growing season with the twigs growing into branches. Also see below, cutting large branches. 

Thinning out the crown.  

Crown thinning is the removal of branches to increase light and air through the crown of a tree. This is done, both to keep the crown healthy and to reduce shade in a garden.  

Ideally no more than a quarter of the crown should be removed at a time. If you have inherited a tree with a dense crown, causing a shade problem, making it difficult to grow plants, and want to keep the tree, pruning may have to be done over successive years.  You could try growing plants tolerant to shade under a tree or cut the tree down.

Raising the crown.

Crown raising or lengthening the trunk, simply means pruning out the branches from the ground up to the bottom of the crown. This is done to create space under and around the tree, for planting, seating, children's play are or  simply for cosmetic purposes. 

When pruning to raise the crown be careful not create a top heavy tree This could weaken and kill the tree and in heavy snow or wind topple it.  Ideally about 2/3rd of the height should be growing crown. 

 

Where to make the cut on large branches  (Pruning of large branches requires special care) 

Natural target pruning limits stress and damage to the tree, this simply means cutting along the branch collar, a line the tree forms naturally. The branch collar is a slightly swollen area where the branch attaches to the trunk.  Cut the branch just before the collar, never cut into the branch collar. This is meant as a simple guide to pruning, if you need more information, google "branch collar"

When is the best time to prune trees, shrubs and fruit bushes.

The best time of year to prune trees, shrubs and fruit bushes.

 

Most deciduous trees are best pruned during late winter, while the tree is still dormant.

Pruning in early spring, could cause trees to bleed sap.

 

Exceptions to the 'deciduous tree' rule are; maple, horse chestnut, birch, walnut and cherry trees which all bleed sap, even towards the end of their dormant season, these are best pruned in mid-summer after new growth has matured.     

 

More exceptions to the rule are: 

  • Apples and Pears Apple and pear trees are mostly pruned in winter, this ensures a good crop of apples and pears next season. Trees that are not pruned become congested with old branches and produce less fruit.  Summer pruning of apple and pear trees that have been trained into cordons, espaliers, fans and pyramid shapes allows sunlight to ripen the fruit. Prune when the bottom third of the new shoots is stiff and woody, about mid July for pears and late August for apples..
  • Plum trees are pruned in early spring or mid summer. Don't prune plums in winter, it increases the risk of infection by silver leaf disease. The best time for pruning is spring for young trees and the middle of summer for mature plum trees. Plum trees won't need the same precise pruning as apples and pears, but young trees will benefit in the long-term  from initial training,  and as they mature, pruning out the old wood encourages more fruit. 

 

Pruning fruit bushes. 

In autumn, cut the raspberries that have fruited during the summer, all the way back to the ground. Autumn fruiting varieties, are pruned in mid winter, cutting the canes that have borne fruit, to ground level.

Gooseberries.

Pruning in winter keeps the centre open and stops the gooseberry bush becomes tangled and unhealthy. In winter cut out dead and diseased stems, those crossing the centre, prune drooping stems to an upright side-shoot and shorten new growth by about half.

Blackberries.

Blackberries and  Loganberries, who's canes grow one season and fruit the next, are pruned by cutting out the fruited canes at ground level after fruiting, normally in winter, leaving the new ones to fruit next season. Uncontrolled, blackberries quickly grow into a tangled mess and sorting out the old and new canes is almost impossible. Keeping blackberries, means, keeping on top of pruning.

Blackcurrants.

Each year cut out about one third of the oldest, weak or very low stems down to the ground, it is easy to tell the old stems from the new, the bark on the old stems is very dark almost black, the new stems are lighter in colour.  Pruning can be done at the same time as harvesting the fruit, or in winter.

 

Hedging conifers.

Conifers require little or no regular pruning except to control and the removal of dead or diseased branches in autumn or winter. At the same time, remove any plain green shoots which appear on variegated conifers. 

 

When to prune summer-flowering shrubs

Shrubs like hydrangeas, that bloom in late summer, produce flowers on the ends of the current season's growth, so prune in early to mid-spring to allow time for the new growth to mature and flower. Regular pruning encourages new, vigorous growth and produces a better display. 

Some gardeners remove "dead head" blooms on mop-head hydrangeas just after flowering, this can be OK in mild areas, but in colder areas it's best to leave them on over winter to protect tender growth buds from frost.

 

Pruning summer-flowering shrubs in spring gives a better flowering display that year. Pruning also keeps growth in check and improves overall plant health. 

Pruning Summer flowering shrubs in winter, could lead to frost damage of the new shoots.

description and range of pruning tools

Pruning tools.

Scissor action hand shears can be used to prune twigs and small branches up to about an l/2" thick. A fine-toothed pruning saw for branches up to three inches thick,  and a coarse toothed pruning saw will be needed for larger branches.

To avoid damage to the tree, all tools need to be sharp and larger branches should be supported to avoid splitting and tearing the bark.

Click on the picture for description and range of pruning tools