Pruning, Demystified.

Posted by Annie Napier on 11/22/2017

PROPER and WISE pruning of overgrown flowering shrubs and trees will help plants produce more flowers and fruit and gives cultivated plants a “one up” on diseases and pests.  However, improperly timed pruning, fall pruning in particular, encourages seasonally inappropriate new growth, which does not acclimate in enough time for winter.  There is a whole process of hardening off that needs to happen internally that gets disrupted… Temperatures and day length trigger the movement of a majority of a plant’s sap to be drawn into the roots, and many cuts made do not have a chance for the natural band aid to cover it up before winter comes, so in the spring, you’ll likely have to re-prune the dead off of that tip anyway.

Pruning is one of my favorite things to do; allow me to make a few things a little less stressful to think about for you when you feel the urgent need to prune.


(Oh, I know that's not just me! )

You can ALWAYS prune: 

  1. Dead
  2. Diseased or Pest Infected - be sure to sanitize tools with bleach or warm soapy water, and allow to dry, before using on the next plant, so you don't spread the disease/innoculant/insect, etc.
  3. Derranged - unbalanced, unstable, irrational. Also considered part of training.

This is the case of:

    • Crossing branches
    • 2 central leaders when the plant's natural structure is to have one  (Note: some species are meant to have more than one)
    • Fast, weak growth - watersprouts or suckers that shoot straight up very quickly steal energy resources from the stronger structures of the plant, and they will die quickly in wind & ice anyway
    • Unwanted growth that is growing into, instead of away from, the plant's interior - this growth decreases air circulation within the canopy which can bring about other issues.  There are ways of increasing canopy density the right way.

proper pruning cuts
A node is where you want to make cuts.  This is the place where the stem meets a branch. Hormones live there and to say it simply, magical things happen within the biology of the plant.

Make larger cuts in stages, like in the picture, and be sure the final cut is at the same angle as the branch collar—the furrow of bark where the branch and trunk meet. If you’ve done it right, a circle of healthy callus will eventually swell around the spot.

Above all, be safe.  If you can't trim from the ground using pole pruners, or if there's pruning to be done near power lines, make sure you hire a professional.  We are happy to recommend a local, certified arborist for you.


Consider when your plants bloom to know when to properly prune. 

For Spring-flowering shrubs, such as Forsythia, Quince, Lilac, Azalea, Spirea, and Viburnums: 

  • Prune these ONLY after they bloom, in the spring.

If you like the "Because" - > If you prune them before bloom, you will be cutting off flower buds that formed the previous fall.

  • If you are needing to completely reshape a spring flowering shrub, then prune up to 1/3 of the foliage off during the winter.  

For Summer-flowering shrubs, such as Roses, Crape Myrtles, Rose-of-Sharon, Abelia, Beautyberry, Crabapples,  Sumacs, Cherries, and Plums: 

  • Prune in early spring (late February or early March) before foliage emerges.

Because: Spring is when they set flower buds.  If you prune too late, your shrub will not have flowers where cuts have removed buds.

Evergreens such as Spruce, Junipers

  • Prune in early in March and early September

Because -> this is just before growth flushes occur and pruning cuts will be covered over with new foliage quickly.

Formal hedges

  • Typically require year round pruning, every 6-8 weeks.  

A bit more on hedging: Cut them flat on the top with sides cut on an angle so it is wider at the ground. This allows development of denser foliage due to more even sunlight.  We'd be happy to shape these for you if you want to get them off to a good start! 

Summer pruning includes: 

  •  Maples, River Birch, Dogwoods, Walnuts, and Elm

Because they ooze sap when pruned in the winter.

Fruiting trees & pruning – ahem....stay tuned for an entirely different blog! 


Happy Thanksgiving. 

We are grateful to our customers and readers for their support. 

Remember:  Eat, walk, football, family time, whatever, just don't prune.  

But DO get those winter bulbs in the ground.



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