Trees and shrubs are an important part of any landscape, providing shade, screening views, and adding interest and beauty. But all too often these plants become overgrown and unruly, making them difficult to maintain and requiring a lot of pruning. 


If you’re not sure how to go about pruning trees and shrubs, don’t worry – you’re not alone. Many people find it confusing and intimidating. But with a little knowledge and some practice, you can learn how to do it properly and easily. In this article, we will teach you the basics of pruning trees and shrubs so that you can keep your landscape looking its best.


Pruning Shrubs


When pruning shrubs, try to maintain the natural shape of the plants by removing individual branches. Using loppers or hand pruners, remove dead, damaged, crossing, and crowded branches back to the base of the plant. Avoid shearing flowering shrubs with hedge shears. 


Cut back to a bud that faces out, away from the central stem or trunk. New growth will emerge from this bud, so you want it to grow outward, not inward.

Leave about 1/2 inch between the bud and where you make your cut.

Cut at an angle that slants down and away from the bud in order to discourage water from collecting on the wound and running toward the bud. 

When pruning larger branches, cut back to a lateral branch—i.e., where a smaller branch emerges from the branch you are pruning.


Pruning Trees


Most deciduous and evergreen trees need little pruning once they’re established in your yard. There will be times, however, when you’ll need to do corrective pruning to remove a broken branch, diseased limb, or dead growth.  


Prune side branches back to the main branch or trunk, leaving the collar (stub of a branch that resembles a raised ring around the base of the branch). Leaving this collar intact is essential to the proper healing of the wound. 


When pruning large limbs, over 1-1/2 inches in diameter, use a pruning saw or bow saw to make a 3-part cut:


The first cut should be made underneath the branch, about 6 to 12 inches away from the trunk. Only cut about 1/3 of the way through.

Make the second cut 3 inches away from the first cut towards the end of the branch. As you are making the cut, the branch will fall.

Finally, cut the remaining stub back to the branch collar.

For smaller branches, use a pruning saw or hand pruners to remove branches, cutting back to an outward-facing bud or intersecting branches.


Don’t cover pruning cuts with tree paint. Research has shown that sealing cuts and wounds on trees doesn’t speed healing and can, in fact, promote decay.


Pruning Hedges


Evergreen and deciduous hedges need periodic pruning throughout the growing season, starting in spring.


For informal hedges of lilacs or other deciduous shrubs, use loppers or hand pruners to remove broken or dead branches, keeping the shape of the shrub intact.


For evergreens in a formal setting, shear to keep the hedge shape and size in bounds.

Generally, be sure to leave the bottom of the hedge wider than the top so that sunlight can reach the bottom branches to promote lush growth.