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Spring Pruning

 Spring Pruning

Pruning can be very intimidating and a daunting task.  Rest assured it is a rare plant that is killed by pruning.  Most plants grow better and stay healthier from selective pruning.  

The secret is to know when and how to do it. 

It is one of the best things you can do for plants in your garden and landscape.  Becoming skillful at pruning plants, trees and shrubs requires experience, patience and the right tools.

Using the right tools - Cleaning and Care 

For all plants, shrubs and trees it is important to remember that pruning requires the use of sharp, correctly set tools.  Saws, Shears, Loppers and Secateurs need to be sharpened regularly so that clean cuts can be made allowing wounds to close rapidly.  Ragged or torn tissue does not callus easily. 

Pruning tools need to be kept clean in order to prevent the spread of diseases, fungus and insect eggs.   

Scientists have found that soaking pruning blades for a minute or two in either a full-strength or a 1-to-5 solution of chlorine bleach, Lysol, or Pine-Sol brought the most consistent protection. 

Disinfectant wipes also worked well.

Oil steel tool heads to prevent them from oxidizing. 

Tools should not be left to soak for longer than required as damage can occur.


Group 2 and 3 clematis may be pruned in early spring since they bloom on the current season’s growth.  

The current growth may be pruned back to basal buds in early spring.  

Stems are pruned back to different heights ranging from 1 metre (3 ft) to 10 cm from the base.  

Support the resulting new growth with ties.  The plant will cover a large area and produce a better show of blooms.  Following the general rule for pruning, remember you are also pruning to remove older branches and dead ones.

Some  clematis types in this group:  Viticella, Integrifolia, Texensis, 

many large flowering e.g. ‘Bees Jubilee’ 

Spirea - others that are included in this group - mock orange, forsythia

Spirea should be pruned after spring flowering.  They flower in the spring and early summer and form new flower buds on the late summer growth.  Thus they flower the following year on old wood and are generally pruned after they bloom.

Root Pruning

Rugosa Roses, Lilacs and similar plants should be root pruned, if needed, before spring growth begins.  They spread by means of rhizomes which send up suckers to form new plants.  Main branches grow rapidly from these underground roots and if left undisturbed will form stems with few flowers.  Remove all dead branches along with the weak ones and the suckers that have come up.  This leaves stronger stems and more space for new, healthy growth.  Sever and dig up the rhizomes that progress beyond the desired area of planting.


During lilac pruning, look out for dead or diseased branches and remove these with a good pair of sharp pruners. Don’t over-prune your plant, but reduce branches by up to a third each year to encourage vigorous new growth.

To make sure that you get great blooms year after year, deadhead all the lilac’s flowers and prune the flowering stems back to a single set of leaves.


Junipers are best cut back before active growth begins in June by removing the tip growth to an overlapping branch which will cover the pruning cut, but preserve its natural shape

Apple Trees 

Apple trees should be pruned in the late winter or early spring prior to bloom.  This reduces quantity but increases the quality of the fruit and aids new buds to form on spur wood for the following year.

Tree pruning guidelines and general rules

As you trim, open the centre of the tree or shrub you are working on to the light and air by varying the length of your branches, cutting some by 1/3 and others by ½ or more.  This encourages the plant to grow flowers on the inner branches. Don’t over-prune your plant, but reduce branches by up to a third each year to encourage vigorous new growth.  

1. Spring is the best time to prune for most plants.                                                            

2. Take out diseased and rotting branches.                                                            

3. Watch for a poor crotch and take off that branch.                                         

4. Remove overlapping branches.                                                          

5. Remove branches that are too closely spaced to nearby branches.  Branches should be 10-12" apart.     

6. When removing a branch prune it close to the trunk.                           

7. Remove Suckers and watersprouts. 



Tree Diagram from the Guelph University Master Gardener’s Course,  “The Horticulturalist III”  pages 4-35 & 4-36