Bulbs 101

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Basic Pruning Techniques

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Basic Pruning Techniques

Posted In perennials, pruning

Basic Pruning Techniques

Two main pruning concepts

Heading Back: Heading back increases the density of the plant and makes it sturdier.
Thinning: Thinning will make a plant grow taller and more open.

Typical pruning needs of a tree

Broken Branches: Unsightly and possibly dangerous.
Diseased Branches: Removal isolates disease-causing organisms.
Crowded Branches: Removal increases light and raw materials to remaining branches.
Non-symmetrical: Removal improves appearance

Pruning deciduous shrubs

Remove all broken, diseased, and crisscrossing branches. Remove a part of each long shoot that may spoil the shape of the shrub, and prune down to ground level about one third of the oldest branches.


Frequently pinch back, with the thumb and forefinger, soft growth throughout the growing season to avoid future pruning, to redirect growth, and to increase the density of the plant. Pinching is also useful for disbudding flowers and thinning fruit.

A proper cut

Support the branch below where the cut is to be made. Cut at a slant in the direction you want the new branch to grow.
Cut Close
Cut an unwanted branch in such a way as to leave the shortest possible stub.

Removing heavy limbs

Use a 3-cut technique to avoid damage to a tree by splitting. Cut at (1) under the limb, then at (2) above and further out to remove the limb, and at (3) to remove the stub. The heaviest limbs may be supported by a rope. Always use proper safety procedures.

The ideal hedge shape

Prune hedge narrow at the top to allow sunlight to reach the bottom foliage.

Choosing the correct bud

Prune near a lateral (side) bud that is pointing in the direction that you want the subsequent branch to grow. Cutting off a terminal (end) bud will cause the nearest lateral bud to inherit its strength and direction.

The cut in relation to buds

Too Slanted: Exposes too much surface area to damage.
Too long: Can cause dieback of the stub.
Too short: Will interfere with bud growth.
Ideal: Cut from opposite the base of the bud slanting upward to the top.

Helpful Tips


  • Always prune away dead, broken, and diseased portions of plant at any time.
  • Prune flush to a main branch or trunk.
  • Cover cuts of 1 1/2” diameter or more with a protective wood compound.
  • In general, prune weak plants hard and vigorous plants lightly.
  • For safety and ease of pruning, use the correct tool for the job.
  • Keep your tools sharp and clean. Clean cuts heal more quickly.
  • Make a cut only with a good reason and with an understanding of what your cut will produce.
  • Always use proper safety equipment when pruning.



  • Do not leave ragged cuts or stubs.
  • Do not use hedge shears for general pruning.
  • Do not prune with sprung, dull, or improper tools.
  • Do not do all your pruning at the same time.
  • Do not expect pruning to compensate for defects caused by overcrowding, poor soil conditions, or improper climate.
  • Do not assume that every good gardener is a good pruner. Check out casual advice before you prune.
  • Do not climb trees! The hazards far outweigh the benefits. Call a professional or use a long-handled pole tree trimmer.

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