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How to Prune Trees and Shrubs

Updated: Oct 17, 2022

Pruning is an essential part of having healthy, thriving trees and shrubs. Knowing when and how to prune trees and shrubs will help you and your garden for years to come. Use this guide whenever you’re wondering if a tree or shrub on your property needs a little tender loving care and elbow grease!

Pruning Supplies you Need Before you begin hacking away at anything, make sure you have the right tools and that they are in good condition.

Some pruning essentials are:

  • Pruning shears

  • Hedge Shears

  • Trowel

  • Garden fork

  • Gardening gloves

  • Protective eyewear

Check to make sure your blades are sharp and your protective gear will keep you safe from pokes and jabs. You’ll also need a plan for how to dispose of the branches, twigs, and other organic matter you’ll be left with post-pruning.

When to Prune Trees and Shrubs

Generally speaking, it’s a good idea to prune when trees and shrubs are dormant. Most of our trees and shrubs in Allentown go dormant in our colder winter months, and come out of dormancy once spring comes. When a plant or shrub is dormant, it will heal faster and will be less vulnerable to pests and disease.

A basic guideline to follow:

Conifers/ Evergreens: Prune in late winter (it is rare to need to prune back conifers unless it’s a case of disease or damage)

Non-blooming or summer-blooming trees and shrubs: Prune in late winter while fully dormant.

Spring-blooming trees and shrubs: Prune immediately after their spring blooms are spent. Don’t leave it too late in the season.

Follow this guide when it comes to intense pruning, but if you just need to cut off some dead or diseased branches or need to do some basic maintenance pruning, it’s okay to do that anytime. Check out our handy pruning calendar as another great resource.

How to Tell if Trees and Shrubs Need Pruning

Pruning should always be done with caution and care. Every time we prune a tree or shrub, we are putting it at risk for damage and pests. Keep in mind that you should almost never prune back more than 10% of a tree or shrub at a time. Prune back what is most urgent: anything diseased, dead, or damaged. You should also prioritize removing suckers or offshoots that threaten to choke out your trees and shrubs. After you have taken care of the most urgent needs, prune back trees and shrubs for aesthetics.

While pruning is a bit risky, it’s still absolutely necessary when disease, damage, or unwanted growth threaten the health and wellbeing of our plants.

Signs your trees and shrubs may need pruning:

- A branch is broken

- Very dense bunches of branches that could destroy property

- Anything growing too close to utilities poles/lines

- Dead, hollow branches

- Anything with signs of disease

How to Prune Trees and Shrubs

Now that you know when to prune, let’s get to the how.

Check the forecast: Wait for a dry, mild day to do your pruning. Pruning trees and shrubs in cold and wet conditions makes them more vulnerable to disease and damage. As days get warmer, they will be put under more strain, plus the hotter months are when most growth happens. If you’re relatively new to gardening and pruning, you should note that gardening on dry, mild days is always ideal!

Start with the most urgent: Prioritize your pruning. Always start with what threatens you or the health of your tree or shrub first. Cut away dead, diseased, or broken branches first. Then move onto anything overgrown or unsightly. Be sure you’re not damaging the structure of the tree or shrub, and don’t cut off more than you need to.

Cut with care: When pruning, cut off at the node, the location where one branch connects to another. Think of pruning as giving your tree little cuts that it will need to heal. Because we always try to prune when the plant is dormant, it will have time to heal and push out new growth for its peak growing season.

What to do After You Prune

Another thing to know when it comes to how to prune trees and shrubs is clean-up and aftercare. While composting is a wonderful option for many types of organic matter, pruned trees and shrubs are not compostable, especially when you are cutting away diseased wood. Take pruned materials and add them to your burn pile or collect them in yard waste bags to be sent to a designated disposal point.

After pruning, check back to make sure your freshly-pruned trees are forming a callus over the bark. Think of it as a natural bandage. As always, regularly check over your shrubs and trees for any signs of pests or disease.

Learning how to prune your trees and shrubs is a great skill to have and will help you take pride in your garden and outdoor space. If you’re looking for more tips on how to prune trees and shrubs in Allentown, come visit us! We’re always here to help you with all your gardening needs.

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