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Flowerdale Nursery & Landscaping

Pruning Techniques


What is Pruning?

Pruning is the art & practice of correcting, altering, or enhancing a plants growth. Collectively this craft is known as Arboriculture. Corrective pruning maintains & promotes healthy plants. We can alter a plants shape by training (forcing) it through selective pruning. For fruit trees, it increases your harvest by strategic pruning. Lastly, pruning enhances the plants own “natural” growth pattern & shape.


Corrective Pruning

There are 3 areas that are addressed through corrective pruning. All plants should be pruned at least once or twice year.


Removal of Dead or Diseased Tissue

1-Make clean cuts with sharp clean tools.

2-Sterilize tools after cuts with alcohol in a spray bottle, or bleach & water solution.

3-Discard any diseased material. When cutting wood inspect for disease by looking for dark brown or black streaks in the wood. This is an indicator of rot or disease.

4-Don’t use shoe spikes on palms or other trees as they can transport disease.

5-For grasses the yearly removal of foliage to near the ground encourages healthy, fire safe re-growth.

6-Some perennials die back to stumps or near the ground during a state of dormancy. Remove the dead growth.


Removal of Spent Flowers, Fruit, or Seed

1-Remove spent blooms often (deadheading), this promotes repeat bloom; it also diverts energy from seed production back to growth & bloom.

2-This method promotes lush dense growth on well behaved plants.

3-When possible remove any ripe fruit or spent seed heads.

Structural Trouble Shooting

1-Remove any branches that cross to avoid wounds.

2-Locate & treat or remove weak branch crotches, chose the strongest of the forks & leave it as the main stem. You can remove weak crotches & joints completely if there is no dramatic loss no the plants architecture.

3-Remove damaged branches.

4-Remove awkward or hazardous branches or limbs.

5-Remove any unwanted shoots from trunks or roots.

6-Pruning increases air circulation, which lets light in & promotes healthy growth.

7-Correct & if possible remove any effects form past incorrect pruning.


Plants that have been damaged by heat or frost should have the damaged tissue removed after new growth has sprouted & only after all danger of frost or extreme heat has past.


When pruning branches make cuts parallel to the branch collar, avoid pruning below the central ridge of bark where the trunk & branch meet. This allows for the bark on the trunk to re-grow & heal over the wound without threat of it re-sprouting.


For branches that are large or cumbersome instead of making one cut make three:

1.   First make a cut under the branch about a foot or so above the branch collar, make the cut a quarter the thickness of the branch. This is so that the bark can break free without tearing bark or splintering.

2.   Then make a second cut immediate opposite from the first cut & this cut should be just a few inches above the first cut. These two cuts will effectively remove the branch without damaging or removing the branch collar.

3.  After the branch is removed the final cut is made which removes the branch tissue that is left behind, making a clean cut back to the branch collar.


Seasonally prune four times a year. This gives you a balance of work & rest. Some plants, like grasses, perennials, some trees, & shrubs need a hard pruning once a year either in spring or fall depending on the season of their dormancy.

•         Plants that are warm season growers should be pruned in the spring, before growth starts.

•         Plants that grow in the cool season should be pruned in the fall, before growth starts.

Deadhead & corrective prune whenever necessary, make accurate cuts with clean sharp tools. Remember some plants have special pruning needs so research.



 These are some examples of incorrect structural pruning

A.     Topping- removal of the top of the plant with arbitrary cuts. This causes dense incorrect unhealthy growth from inside the crown.

B.     Tipping- arbitrarily removing branch tips, this causes “lions tails” or clusters of twigs at branch ends. This causes branches to become heavy & unstable. It is better to remove the entire branch back to either the trunk or a major side branch that is structurally sound & not in the way.

C.     Bark Ripping- causes unnecessary injury to the plant & can lead to infection, always make clean cuts with sharp tools.

D.    Flush Cutting-cutting branches flush with trunk, always leave a small collar & never cut beyond the small ridge where the bark on the trunk & the bark on the branch meet. Over time the wound will heal over smooth & is likely not to re sprout.

E.     Stub Cutting-leaving stubs on the main trunk where branches have been. This is not healthy as it may leave a chunk of dead & potentially diseased wood attached to the plant. It is also very possible that the branch will re sprout leading to more work & corrective pruning.

Altering or Shaping Plants

Horticulturists & landscapers have always experimented with plants as a medium as living sculpture. This can show itself in things like topiary, espalier, small space gardens, or for any other aesthetic reason.


Whatever reasons for your pruning remain consistent. Choose a pruning schedule that is related to the growing & blooming cycle of the plant in question.


Pruning a plant at the wrong time of year may result in the loss flowers or fruit. You can “prune away” the next crop by removing the immature buds.

Altering a plants shape often increases the maintenance on that particular plant.


Attention is necessary, as lack of or accuracy can increase a future workload quickly.


Plants are also subject to stress when they are pruned or when they are kept to a specific size. Allow plants a chance to grow by slightly varying the height of the plant with each cut.


The more frequent the plant is pruned the more likely it will develop a disease or pest problem.


Use clean sharp tools that are sterilized often.


Increase Produce Yield

All trees, berries, & perennial vines that produce fruit can be pruned to increase the quality & quantity of harvest. There are three pruning tactics to increasing yield.


1-Increase the size of fruit & of quality harvest

  Remove all ripe fruit & never let fruit hang on a tree after it has become ripe.

  Remove a third or up to half of all fruit so that the remaining fruit will become large & choice.

  Keep fruit well spaced, with ample room between individual fruit.

 For fruiting vines, like grapes, prune plants back to a “structure” of just a few lateral & horizontal branches, removing all younger twiggy & excessive growth.

  Avoid pruning at the wrong time of year.  Avoid pruning anytime immediately before, during, or after flowering. For deciduous fruit tress prune while the trees are in there winter dormancy soon after the foliage has fallen off.

2-Disease Control

  Remove any diseased, damaged, or dead wood.

 Prune branches into open tiers of forked branches, this promotes good air circulation.

 Keep the center of the tree open to let in maximum light, remove any growth that grows into the center of the trees crown, this improves the amount of light that the tree receives.

  For some berry crops removing all the growth to the crown of the plant one foot from the crown can revive old unproductive plants.

 3-Ease of Harvest

  Keep fruit trees short in stature open in form so that fruit is well-spaced & easy to harvest.

  In many smaller urban yards, keeping fruit trees on the small size is a perfect way of maximizing space.  Many fruit trees can be grown successfully in small spaces.


Enhancing the Natural Shapes of Plants

Nature is a perfect architect & all plants come with built in blue prints. When planning a landscape or planting a garden choose your plants carefully so that plants are planted with their mature size & shape in consideration. Planting the wrong plant in the wrong place will lead to increase workload & stress on both you & your plant. When pruning to enhance the natural shape of a plant one must locate & find that “shape” amongst a tangle of branches. This is often the hardest part of pruning; the following techniques are given based on the type of plant encountered.

Trees- trees tend to be the focus of most pruning instruction. This is because of their size, permanence, & potential safety hazards. 
   Trees come in many shapes from multi-trunked, umbrella shaped, or tall & narrow. Determine the natural shape of the tree, which is going to be pruned (research).

   Look at the tree from all major viewpoints at ground level.

  Identify the trunk (or trunks) & all major side branches; these are usually the large heavy braches from which all the smaller canopy braches arise.

  Thin out branches that is inferior or less aesthetic in appearance. Always follow branches visually up into the crown looking at how their potential removal will affect the overall shape of the plant.

  Trim up the canopy to a “ceiling”, identify the minimum height of the canopy & remove any foliage or non-structural branches below that line.

   Lastly work on the crown, below are several ways that the crown of a tree can be pruned to enhance its natural shape.

  For palms remove fronds only after they have started to age & turn dry, never remove more than half of a palms green fronds as it can lead to unnecessary stress & even death. The “skirts” of palm fronds on the trunks of several species is natural. Never use shoe spikes when climbing up palm trunks, as it spreads incurable diseases.


Shrubs- they fall in two categories, dense shrubs & open shrubs.

Shrubs need to have errant branches that grow too far out beyond the canopy removed to keep the desired shape.

  Some shrubs respond well to light sheering.

  Interior branches may need to be thinned to increase air circulation.

   Corrective prune as necessary, shrubs with open habits should be pruned much like that of a tree.



Groundcover- these plants grow low to the ground, their pruning regimen consists of keeping them flat, attractive, & contained.

Use all corrective pruning techniques on these plants at least once a year.


Grasses- ornamental grasses have a unique requirement in that most will require that all the previous seasons’ growth to be removed.

    Removing the old growth will stimulate quick growing lush new growth.

  Often times spent flower & seed heads build up with dry, dead foliage to create a thatch, which can be a fire hazard.

  Always prune back grasses after they have flowered & when they are in the season of their dormancy.


Perennials- some perennials, like grasses, need to have all their previous season’s growth removed or pruned back hard.

  This stimulates new growth & continued bloom.

  Other perennials require little pruning or sometimes just a light shearing is all that’s needed.

 Be fastidious in removing faded flowers & seed heads.


Annuals-The pruning of annuals consists of removing spent flower heads (deadheading) & keeping plants compact & healthy.

At the end of the bloom season let flowers & seed heads mature to shatter increasing your chance for a repeat performance.


Roses-Roses benefit from a hard pruning in mid January & can be pruned back at other times of the year, especially mid-summer to encourage a more prolific late summer to early fall bloom. We prune roses back hard to control disease & promote plentiful & large flowers.

  Remove spent flowers (deadheading) as often as possible cut stems at least a foot back at a bud that is facing outward away from the center of the plant.

 Once a year in January cut the roses back hard to 3’ or so, removing woody old unproductive canes (larger than 4” dia.), diseased or damaged canes, canes that are crossing, & canes that are too small (less that 1’’ dia.). The rose should be pruned to less that ½ of its original size with 3 to 7 main branches.

  The buds at the tops of the remaining stems should be facing outward away from the plants center.

  The center of the plant should be open & ‘basket shaped” without crossing branches.

  When pruning back to encourage bloom in summer or fall, trim plants back to half their height.

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