Tips for Your Tree and Bush Trimming and Pruning

Sponsored by ECHO
March 2018

Twigs and Branches

The trimming and pruning of trees, shrubs and bushes is one of the most beneficial but often one of the most neglected of tasks that property owners face every year. The reasons for neglecting this necessary maintenance are many, but in a lot of cases it stems from a lack of knowledge of when and how to tackle those pruning and trimming jobs. 

Whether its evergreens, deciduous trees, fruit trees, ornamental bushes – or a combination of all of them – the benefits of pruning include developing and maintaining proper growth, increasing production of fruit or flowers and the ongoing maintenance of mature trees and bushes. Learning the basic components of proper pruning and trimming may help you overcome some of the concerns you may have. Here are some tips to get you started.

When to Prune

Late winter and early spring is a good time for most of your pruning and trimming jobs. If you prune before spring growth begins you will minimize the damage that may occur from the trimming process and you will also have a good unobscured view of the plants’ growth and branch structure.

Some deciduous trees like maples and birch tend to bleed sap more freely in the early spring, but this generally does not hurt the tree and stops fairly quickly. If you want to avoid the flowing sap when pruning these trees, you may wait to prune them in late spring or early summer after leaves have fully expanded.

Pine and evergreen trees as well as evergreen shrubs also respond well to dormant late winter/early spring pruning. Most fruit trees and fruit vines such as grapes also are best pruned in late February through April depending on your geographical location. Of course dead, diseased or damaged limbs can and should be pruned anytime of the year.

What to Prune

tree pruning

There is an old adage in the landscaping business that goes something like this: “If you prune a tree or a bush, you know you’ve done a good job if no one notices.” In other words, slow down and only make cuts that are necessary to accomplish your pruning goals. And what are some of the goals of pruning? According to the University of Minnesota Extension Service, (, you should keep in mind the following when pruning; prune to promote plant health, prune to maintain plants for their intended purposes, prune to improve appearance, and prune to protect people and property.

Pruning is a process that should start from the time you first plant your trees. The type of pruning that young or newly planted trees receive is really best described as “training” the trees’ growth. This training is done by making very selective and minor pruning of branches that would impede proper development and growth.

Examples of the type of pruning that young and developing trees may receive include minor shaping of the tree but be careful not to trim the leader, which is the dominate growth limb at the top of the tree. Even in young trees, it’s important to remove branches that grow back in the direction of the center of the tree and to remove braches that are very close to each other. Also, on certain trees like evergreens and fruit trees, if you have multiple leaders, it is good practice to select one leader and remove the other competing branches. 

Additional cuts or pruning to make on trees include cutting the suckers – small growth coming up from the base of the tree – and waterspouts, which are best described as growths that shoot straight up from the lateral growth limbs. Also, you will want to trim any branches that grow too close to the ground or limbs that grow at a sharp angle out from the trunk of the tree. As a general rule of thumb, you shouldn’t prune more than a quarter of the tree’s leaf area in a single year after it has become established. Newly planted trees require as many leaves as possible to sustain good root development 

On established larger trees, you may want to consult an arborist or tree removal specialist if you feel that you will need extensive pruning to rehabilitate or remove a large part of the tree. Depending on your confidence and skill set, the same type of pruning mentioned for developing trees may be used.

Bushes and shrubs should be pruned very lightly to stimulate fuller growth. Using hand pruners, look for the long unbranched stems and make cuts near a healthy bud. These type of cuts are called heading cuts and they help to produce side branches that will fill out the shrub or bush’s natural form. As the plant develops you will need to look for and prune out weak, dead, diseased, or branches rubbing on each other. You will need to continue to prune throughout the plant’s life cycle to maintain the growth and aesthetics you desire. 

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