Friday Free For All: Proper Pruning Techniques

In today’s post, I thought that we would take a look at pruning. This will be a mile high view of pruning since people write entire books about how to properly prune. This is NOT an example of proper pruning:

proper pruning techniques

This is crape murder. And it’s disgusting. Please don’t do this to your trees. If you have mistakenly done it in the past, ask for forgiveness and vow to never do it again. Moving on…

Pruning is a beautiful dance of art and science. There are many schools of thought on pruning and you could read every book and article published and still just not get it. The “it” that I’m referring to is the ability to step away from the tree or shrub and know that it was pruned without making it look like it was butchered. That is the art of pruning. Since we are taking a mile high view, let’s look at some pruning techniques.

  1. Removing broken or crossing branches. This should be done at least once a year with trees and shrubs. Of course if you notice broken branches, remove them when you see them. Look for branches that will potentially cross as the tree or shrub ages. It is much easier on you and the tree if you remove them when they are young.
  2. Topping trees. With trees, there is never, never, never a reason to top a tree. Many people incorrectly believe that they are helping the tree by topping it or that the tree branches will be less likely to fall on their house if the tree is topped. The only way that this is true is that if you remove a branch, it certainly can’t fall at a later date. BUT, the flush of growth that is produced by the tree as a result of the epicormic buds breaking is a hazard to your home. Epicormic buds, or survival buds as I like to call them, are weakly attached to the tree and stand a much greater chance of being broken off during a wind storm.
  3. Hedges. If you are the type of gardener that enjoys a long row of hedges, make sure that you are pruning the shrubs so that the top of the shrub is narrower than its base. This allows sunlight to still reach the bottom branches. If you prune your shrubs so that the top is wider than the base, the uppermost branches will shade out the lower ones and you will end up with the umbrella effect.
  4. Rejuvenation. Often times, your shrubs will need to be cut back to the ground completely. Perhaps they have outgrown their space or haven’t been properly pruned in the past. With rejuvenation, you remove all of the top growth and leave 6″-12″ at the base. While you’re pruning, think about how the shrub will grow in the future and remove any branches that may cross at a later date. Common candidates for rejuvenation pruning include Red Twig Dogwood, Hydrangeas, Forsythia and Ligustrum.
  5. Removing watersprouts. Crape myrtles are famous for sending out a deluge of watersprouts from the base of the tree during the summer. These can be removed any time that you see them without damaging the tree. If you see watersprouts on other trees such as cherries or walnuts, you may have other issues going on. Consult your local extension agent or a Certified Arborist for their opinion.


This is just a small sample of proper pruning techniques. I now realize that I need to do a whole series on pruning to more fully explain the ins-and-outs. I’ll add that to the growing “to do” list here at Mid-Atlantic Gardening. Let me know if there are other topics that you would like to learn more about…leave me a comment below or e-mail me at Happy gardening!



April 13, 2012Permalink 2 Comments

2 thoughts on “Friday Free For All: Proper Pruning Techniques

  1. Great article Stacey! My husband and I purchased a property with a small orchard on it and subsequently, attended an excellent pruning class at Albemarle Ciderworks just south of Cville. The class was great for the fruit trees but I definetly appreciate your info on the everyday varities. Also, very happy to know we didn’t just kill our raggedy forsythia bushes but instead did them all a favor!

  2. Kate, I’m sure that your forsythias will reward you next year with a bounty of blooms. You cut them at the right time of year too. They should still have plenty of time to form their flower buds for next year. Good job!

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