Pruning Plants: How to Trim Your Plants for Maximum Health

White-gloved gardener pruning a rose bush

After being in the ground at the six month mark, your plants may start to get a little wild. They are out of their establishment phase and need some help keeping their shape and health. Pruning is an essential component of landscape maintenance.

We recommend to start a pruning program early, before the plants get unmanageable and have to be hacked back down to the size and shape you want. Starting pruning early gives you the opportunity to control the shape the plant grows, instead of letting it grow wild and having to make deep cuts. This is also usually the healthiest option for the plant.

Another key to successful pruning is to be sure not to cut away more than 25% of growth. Cutting any more than this could endanger the plant health and leave your plants looking disfigured.

Knowing the difference between the different pruning techniques are also key to maintaining your plants. Although these methods all fall under the umbrella of pruning, they can be very different.

Thuja shrub trimming by professional gardener

Hand-pruning, or thinning, is a technique in which you carefully and meticulously cut away only certain parts of the plant. Usually done inside out, thinning maintains the plant health while also maintaining its natural shape. This makes the plant look open and loose, while also making sure it doesn’t get crowded and cut off from sunlight.

Woman pruning a bush

Pinching is another pruning method that is popular for making plants more full. Pinching enables you to take a tall, lanky plant and fill it out to be more bushy and prominent. This is done by removing just the tip of the branches, to encourage the new growth downward.

Trimming a hedge with manual shears

Shearing, is the opposite of thinning. Sheering enables you to sculpt the plant into different shapes, such as rectangles, squares or spheres. This is a popular pruning style for modern or traditional landscaping and primarily used on shrubs.

Dead-heading, the fourth type of pruning, is the act of removing spent flowers. This method is used for flowering plants such as Day Lilies that may have a different stalk than the main leaf of the plant. When the flower begins to die, instead of cutting off just the flower, you prune from the base of the stalk. This keeps the plant healthy and removes additional dead weight from the plant. Deadheading also lets the plant utilize the energy from the spent flower rather than continuing to nurse it’s last days.

Here are some pruning dos and don’ts for frequently researched plants:

Man trimming hedge using strimmer

How to Prune Privacy Hedges:

– Do not prune the top of hedge, until it gets to the desired height.

– Shape the sides to the size you’d like; do not take off more than you need, just start pruning when it reaches the correct width.

– Hand-prune before using a power trimmer or large sheers is generally preferable and leads to less “burned” looking leaves.

Round, properly pruned boxwood bushes

How to Prune Shrubs:

– Know what you shape want before you start pruning.

– If you want a shape such as a square or rectangle, use the shearing method.

– If you want a natural, loose look, use the thinning method.

– Cut to the shape you want over time, not all at once.

Another crucial trick to pruning is to always cut above a growth point, either a bud (a bud is new growth that hasn’t opened yet) or leaf node (a notch in the stem). This enables the plant to send out hormones to cover and heal the pruning cut. If you cut too far away from a growth point, the stem may turn yellow and you run a risk of disease and infection. Roses, in particular, require this type of pruning.

Using large garden shears to trim a privacy hedge

Be sure to know the requirements of your plants before pruning. Different plant species have a different care regimen. Not all plants are created equal. Certain plants, such as pine trees and eucalyptus, have sap that can lure unwanted pests and diseases, so by trimming them at the wrong time of the year, can endanger the plant’s health. Be sure to research your plant species and be sure to prune.

For a free landscape assessment or any questions you might have, contact us today.