How to Prune Trees and Shrubs

Recently I attended a pruning workshop sponsored by the Fayette Master Gardener Association.  Anna

Anna Hauser giving tips on pruning a Japanese apricot tree

Hauser, owner of Fine Pruning in Atlanta, gave us great tips on pruning and demonstrated exactly what to do by pruning several trees and shrubs in master gardener Barbara Buckley’s beautiful garden.  Anna is a trained horticulturalist and an ISA certified arborist.

Anna suggested several questions to answer to determine if a tree or shrub needs to be pruned:

How does the plant’s shape look overall?

Does the branch structure seem balanced?

Are there dead or diseased limbs?

Are any limbs growing at tight angles (growing straight up the middle of the tree) or crossing other branches?

Are there branches too close together or rubbing each other?

Are suckers growing at the base of the tree?

Tackling the pruning!

Good candidates for pruning include plants with dead or diseased limbs, limbs growing at tight angles, limbs crossing other branches, limbs growing too close together or rubbing each other and suckers. When pruning a branch, cut it back to a lateral branch that is at least 1/3 the size of the original branch you are pruning.

Get into the habit of pruning young trees and shrubs for balance and structure. For established trees and shrubs, pruning should be done carefully to rejuvenate and not stress the plant.  Prune in small amounts and don’t remove more than a quarter of the branches at one time or more than 1/3 of the plant during the same growing season.

Improper pruning results in more problems in the future. Topping a tree to control its height is a common mistake that results in dozens of new growths (water spouts) shooting out of the top of the tree (think crape myrtle here!)

A badly pruned crape myrtle - not a good look!

If you have overgrown foundation shrubs like hollies that are hiding your windows, you can cut them back to 18” above the ground. Rather than just shearing them off at 18”, Anna suggests staggering the pruning cuts.  Cut 1/3 of the branches to the ground, cut 1/3 to the height you want the shrub and 1/3 a little shorter than the optimal height. Alternating levels of growth will be more pleasing and will not result in a mass of growth at the same level.

Spring is a fine time to prune your trees and shrubs. If you have a blooming tree or shrub and want to enjoy the blooms, wait until the blooming period ends and then do your pruning. If you want to rejuvenate the plant and are not concerned about the blooms, you can prune now and be rewarded next year with a more vigorous plant and blooms.

The finished product - a beautifully shaped apricot tree

Bonnie Helander

I am a writer and blogger with a specialty in gardening and a proud graduate of the University Of Georgia. I live in Peachtree City with husband, Dan, and enjoy hiking, gardening, being a member of the Peachtree City Garden Club and rooting for the Georgia Bulldogs!

March 9, 2010