Basic Shrub Pruning Techniques

Basic Shrub Pruning Techniques

Well pruned shrubs and trees are a hallmark of a carefully tended landscape. Foundation plantings are lush and full, and blooming shrubs display their blossoms on shapely branches that accentuate each plant’s unique style.

In addition to proper planting, watering, and fertilizing; pruning is an important practice for promoting plant health and enhancing the natural size and shape of landscape plants. Pruning is easy—a basic understanding of plant growth, and a few simple techniques, and you’ll be ready to go.


Most pruning tools have an arc-shaped blade, which makes short work of slicing through small branches. “Scissor action” pruners involve two sharp blades sliding past each other “Anvil cut” pruners have one blade slicing against a wide, flat surface. While scissor action pruners are more expensive, they usually make the cleanest, closest cuts.

Hedge clippers have long, straight blades. They are used for cutting small, green branches and tips and are best reserved for shearing formal hedges. Pruning saws come in a variety of shapes and sizes, with blades designed for larger branches and small trunks.

Make sure blades are kept sharp and oil them periodically. To prevent the spread of plant diseases, clean and disinfect pruning tools after use.

Proper Timing

The soft, green growing tip of a branch is called the “terminal bud.” This bud produces a hormone that affects the growth of side branches. The biology of basic pruning is simple: if you remove the terminal bud, the lateral buds below your cut will be stimulated to grow into more branches. If you leave the terminal bud, the branch will grow longer instead of thicker.

Choosing the Branches

Start by removing any of the branches illustrated below that don’t belong:







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