Pruning Trees & Shrubs

(Last Updated On: March 2, 2017)

Winter Pruning

Late winter pruning is often recommended for many of our trees and shrubs. Pruning while plants are dormant is less stressful for them; it's also much easier to view the structure of deciduous trees and shrubs when they are lacking their foliage. Winter is also a time of the year when sunshine makes us all long to be in our gardens, and pruning is an excellent job to get us out there.

Tools of the Trade

Bypass and Anvil Pruners

The simplest tool, but possibly the hardest to choose, is the hand pruner. At Wentworth's, we carry two distinct styles of hand pruners; the anvil and the bypass. The anvil pruner is the cheaper of the pair and works well for pruning dead wood or undesirable growth. However, for any of your more fragile or valuable plants, we would recommend staying away from anvil pruners, as they tend to smash the wood during cutting leaving it open to insects and disease.

For those more delicate plants, we suggest you consider a bypass pruner. Bypass pruners tend to be a bit more expensive, but they cut like a good pair of scissors, and will consistently give you an easier, cleaner, and healthier prune.

Lopping Shears and Pruning Saw

Another tool which comes in quite handy is the lopping shear. The lopping shear also comes in anvil and bypass type, and just as with hand pruners, the bypass type is the preferred style. Lopping shears are typically used for making larger cuts, up to a 1-1/2" in diameter. They are also excellent for clearing away undesirable growth in your yard.

Pruning saws tend to be an overlooked but very valuable addition to your pruning toolbox. With a pruning saw, you can make delicate cuts on valuable specimen trees, and then turn around and cut down a four inch diameter dead tree, all with the same tool.

Proper Technique


The first thing to look for when pruning a tree, is broken, diseased, or dead branches; all of which should be removed. After we've taken care of the dead wood, the next thing that we should be concerned with are suckers and water sprouts. Suckers can either occur growing from the root system or as growths originating from the trunk. In either case, they reduce water and nutrient flow to the main portion of the tree, and should be removed. Another problem growth is the water sprout, which is very noticeable because it typically heads straight up from a branch. Water sprouts also rob water and nutrients from the tree. They are primarily problems for flowering trees, and should also be removed. After all of these problems have been addressed, a second look at the tree should let you know what other limbs should be removed. Selective pruning of larger limbs and branches should be kept to a minimum unless absolutely necessary, because each cut opens the tree up to more disease and insect pests.

The act of removing large limbs is perhaps the most difficult part of tree pruning. It requires two cuts in which one removes the weight of the limb and prevents tearing of the bark, while the other is made closer to the trunk and removes the remaining stub; for the sake of clarity, this second cut should be no closer to the trunk than the branch collar.

Deciduous Shrubs

Many of our most loved deciduous shrubs can really benefit from annual pruning. Pruning not only controls the size of such shrubs, but it can also increase flower production and encourage colorful bark. By selectively pruning these shrubs, we can increase their value to us, and to our landscapes.

We'll begin with a few of the more common shrubs, such as Lilac, Forsythia, and Weigela. These shrubs are most commonly known for their flowers, as such they should be pruned accordingly. By removing a portion of their oldest stems entirely, we can encourage younger growth which will provide us with more flowers in the future. Plants such as red and yellow twig dogwood have colorful stems, which can be enhanced by removing the older gray stems. Another group of plants that benefit from pruning are the Spireas and Potentillas. These plants are treated a little different in that they are cut down to about 4 or 6 inches in the fall or early spring. By pruning them this way, we increase their flowering and also remove all of their twigginess, which would look unsightly throughout the winter and early spring.

There are many other trees and shrubs that require more detailed pruning recommendations, such as roses, evergreens, and vines. If you have questions about pruning a specific plant, please leave a comment below.

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