Let’s get pruning!


Pruning may be the most mysterious and misunderstood of all gardening skills.  Why do we need to prune?  Plants have been growing for a long time without any intervention from us!  If you remember that pruning will help the plant to be the best version of itself in your landscape; best production, best appearance and best health, your pruning efforts will be fruitful for you and your plants.

It helps to know your subject matter and the end goal.  Know what you want to achieve with your pruning but keep in mind that generally pruning to reduce size and restrict growth is only good for bonsai plants! Right plant, right place will save a lot of effort in the long run.


Timing is everything.  As a wise gardener once said: “The best time to prune is when you have pruners in your hand.”  That is very true, but remember that pruning in late winter and early spring encourages growth.

Summer pruning tends to limit growth because plants are making food and forming buds for next year.  Plants that bloom in spring (eg. forsythia and rhododendron) are flowering on last year’s wood; pruning in spring will remove some of that wood so consider that.  Prune these after they have finished flowering.

Plants that flower from June onward (roses, butterfly bush, shrub hibiscus) are blooming on new wood; spring pruning will encourage new growth and more flowers.


Always cut above a bud, near flush.  Don’t leave a stub!
An outward facing bud directs new growth away from the centre of the plant, which allows for better air movement and light penetration.


What to prune?

The answer depends on the plant but you can often limit pruning to the four D’s; dead, diseased, damaged and deranged.

DEAD: If wood is dead after a cold winter it obviously should be removed.

DISEASED: Stems that don’t look healthy or are visibly diseased, are prime candidates for complete removal.

DAMAGED: Stems that may have been damaged by heavy snow or winds should be taken out.

DERANGED:  Competing leaders on young trees, crossing or parallel branches, stubs, growth rubbing against a building can be removed.


Remember that pruning encourages growth— the more you prune the more growth will occur.  Plants are genetically programmed to do this!


**Pruning shade trees is serious business.  Never top a tree to reduce its size. If in doubt call a professional arborist.


Relax, it’s impossible to kill a plant with pruning unless you’re cutting it down!  Bad pruning can only result in bad plants.  Who wants that?

Written by: Scott Austin

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