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Pruning Trees And Shrubs Properly

Pruning your trees, shrubs and flowers properly is important, as well as trimming at the right time. A lot of questions are being asked about different trees and shrubs and when you should trim back the branches. There is a basic rule of thumb when trimming plant specimens.

Prune With Angle Cut

Branch Cut On An Angle

Straight Cut

Straight Cut

Trimming should be done when the tree or shrub is about to go in its dormant stage. A deciduous plant will lose its leaves and stop growing, or become dormant during the colder months. Even an evergreen will slow down its growth during winter.

Also some questions on when to cut back flowers or dead head them? Dead head means to cut or pop off the dead flower. Many plants with flowers will continually bloom after you take the dead ones off.

The first major tip on trimming any plant is to cut the branch at an angle, as seen in the Angled Cut picture. Cutting the branch straight across could damage the tree or shrub. A diagonal trim will promote new growth.

There is an exception to this if you are using electric clippers. Some landscapers and lawn maintenance companies will use the electric clippers to shape a hedge row of shrubs. People wanting a formal hedge will have the shrubs rounded or squared. You can see the rows of hedges trimmed. This should also be done in fall or late winter.

The next tip to pruning is in thinking of each individual tree or shrub. Each specimen grows at different times and has either an upright look, full branch and leaf structure, or a sprawling out appearance.

Keep the plants growing in their natural state. Cut back the branches or limbs with the shape of the tree or shrub. Let the plant grow naturally as it was meant to. Some people trim back older shrubs too far and all they have left is just a tiny bit of foliage, and the rest is all old branches.

Herbee believes the best way to prune any plant is to manually trim with pruners or clippers for the larger branches. In the Loropetalum page you can see how to properly trim this popular shrub.

When time is a factor people like to take electric trimmers, as it will go a lot quicker. The problem with this method is you do not get the proper angle all the time when you are cutting more then one branch or leaf.

You have your favorite plants situated throughout your landscape areas. You have made a commitment to invest in your plant material, so take the time to properly prune each of your shrubs and trees.

Good pruning tools are not real expensive, and work well with any type of shrub or tree limb. Herbee has a little tip for finely shaping a shrub. Besides a small trimmer and limb or branch clipper, use a pair of scissors! That's right, an actual pair of good scissors.

tree or shrub?

Question About Pruning From A Reader

From Wes, in New Mexico

I'm not sure what this plant is called but I need to cut it back. How far down can I cut it? Thank you.

Hi Wes,

Thank you for asking the question on how far to cut back this specimen. Taking a look at your picture, I am not sure what type of plant it is. Is it a tree or shrub?

One of the main things you have to look at is how old is the specimen, and is it healthy? From the photo, it looks like this specimen may be an older plant. One of the problems you can run into is if older, the plant can become leggy. One recommendation is to see if you have a local nursery where you can bring this photo, or a branch or two. They may be able to idenitify it. Regardless of what type of specimen it is, your goal is to prune the plant to keep its natural shape and health.

One other aspect is to know when the specimen was pruned last. If you haven't trimmed it in years, it may need a good trim. If you have any other information for us that would be great. Please let us know how you make out, and sorry if I couldn't be of more help. All the best to you. I also look forward to finding out what this specimen is. Thanks Wes.

Kimberly (Herbee too)


Check out a few trimming tools right here. Herbee recommends to you. He views maintenance like giving a hair cut to a human. Many of his clients want their shrubs trimmed neatly and the final stage to finish in shaping. This will allow you to use the scissors and fine tune what the pruners couldn't do. This little extra step gives the plant a professional clean cut appearance.

In the spring you will see a lot of new growth on your shrubs and trees. This is the time they come out of a dormant state and begin growing. Don't trim the new branches or leaves in spring. Fall is the best time of year to trim most plant specimens.


Pruning Tools

The same method is used if you are topping off a tree. It does not matter if you have a Cleveland Pear, Arizona Cypress, or Arborvitaes. They are all trimmed the same way. An angled cut on the top limbs will ensure a continual healthy tree. Topping a tree is also best done in the fall season, or late winter. If you are taking down major large tree branches, try a bow saw first. If the limb is too thick, a chain saw may be in order.

The rule still goes for cutting the branch, at an angle. If you are trimming a large amount off a tree, or cutting it down, you might want to consider hiring a landscape specialist to ensure your safety, and also the safety of your property.

There is a proper technique called felling, which means cutting down a tree. This is an art and there are several steps to be taken.

Herbee does not recommend felling a tree unless you are absolutely sure you understand each step. Talk to a local professional before beginning this project. He has worked with many tree specialists and they know exactly how to cut branches and the precise place to drop the tree on the property. These is just some simple basic tips on properly pruning any tree or shrub.

There are some specific shrubs and trees that may be an exception to the fall and late winter pruning schedule. Azaleas, for example, can be trimmed after blooming in the spring.

The Encore Azaleas bloom twice a year, so I recommend trimming them only in late fall. Other flowering shrubs require the same schedule of trimming back after bloom time.



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