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Pruning Basics

Introduction to Pruning Basic Techniques

Definition of Pruning: ”to remove dead or living parts from (a plant) so as to increase fruit or flower production or improve the form”

What is the purpose of pruning trees, shrubs and vines?
Health - remove dead, damaged or diseased branches; sunlight penetration; air circulation; strong structure Size - control size and shape of the plant; maintaining an appealing shape
Bounty - promote flowering and fruit production
Beauty - head back to produce more flowers; promote new fresh growth; rejuvenate old plants
Pleasure - sculpting for your enjoyment; making your garden a work of art

Pruning Tools:

  • Thumb and Forefinger
  • By-pass Pruners
  • Anvil Pruners
  • Pruning Saw
  • Loppers
  • Hedge Clippers
  • Pruning Knife
  • Telescoping Tree Pruner
Care of Pruning Tools:
  • Use full-strength chlorine bleach and soak for 2 minutes
  • Allows wounds to heal rapidly
  • Prevents spread of diseases, funs and insect eggs

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

General Rules for Pruning Trees

  1. Take out diseased, damaged or rotting branches
  2. Watch for a poor crotch and take out
  3. Remove overlapping branches
  4. Remove branches that are too closely spaced to nearby branches
  5. Remove suckers and watersprouts
  6. Pruning paint is not needed - trees heal better without it

Heading Cut:

A heading cut, also called a pinching cut, is often used on young trees to slow growth of stems or branches, increase branching on a long thin stem or to maintain an appearance or specific height of the canopy.

Reduction or Drop-Crotching Cut

Reduction or drop-crotching reduces the height of the tree. The height of the terminal branch is reduced to a large lateral.
Thinning removes the unwanted branch to a large lateral branch. The remaining branch should be one-half, but not less than one-third, the size of the branch removed.


If large branches are removed by a single cut, they often split and produce a larger wound than is necessary for quick, clean closure. Remove such branches by the jump-cut, or drop-cut, method.

On a dead branch that has a collar of live wood, the final cut should be made just beyond the outer edge of the branch collar.

Removal cut

Removal Cut – (in conjunction with a jump-cut)
Removes a branch back to the trunk, or point of attachment on the tree. The part that remains on the tree is larger than the part removed.
The branch collar, a thickened area at the point of attachment of a branch, should be maintained intact. The collar area contains cells that callus rapidly and produce chemicals that can resist disease infection.
Flush cuts, cuts made flush with the trunk and removing the branch collar, should be avoided. Flush cuts open a larger area of the trunk, reduce the tree’s ability to heal the wound and increase the chance of decay.

When is the Best Time to Prune?

  • Late winter or early spring before leaf-out
  • This time frame causes the least amount of stress on trees
  • Light pruning can be done any time

For a hand out on this topic with diagrams please download the attached pdf document

Dinah Wilson,
May 28, 2014, 12:56 PM