Pruning is the removal of stems, branches, or roots of a tree or shrub. The extent of pruning required varies from plant to plant and according to their intended uses (hedges as opposed to orchards for example). The reasons to prune are as follows; to remove diseased, broken or dangerous limbs, to rejuvenate older neglected trees and shrubs by encouraging healthier thicker and more dense growth, to shape for aesthetic reasons, to allow more sunlight into a particular part of your garden and for routine care in order to prevent crisscrossing branches and branches which are growing toward the trunk of the plant.
When pruning for any reason study the plant and the situation carefully, consider the outcome before hand. You can’t undo a mistake. Often branches can hide their full form as they intertwine though other branches, so again be sure to look carefully. For larger limbs begin a cut on the underside of the branch about 1’ from the main trunk. Once you cut about 1/3 through the limb begin a cut on the top side of the limb. This will prevent heavy branches from tearing the bark away from the tree as they fall to the ground. You should always cut, especially long limbs, in sections working your way inwards towards the trunk of the tree. Be aware that branches which are too heavy to be supported with one hand need extra care and may require a professional. Never cut into branch directly above your head.
If a tree or shrub has been neglected for some time it’s probably in need of some fine tuning and thinning. Start with the tangle of crisscrossing branches in the center of the plant. This will allow better air flow and allow more sunlight in. Then step back to see what else may to be done.
Standard Pruning Practices
Here are some standard pruning practices. Pruning deciduous shrubs in winter, while the plant is dormant and bare of foliage, allows you to have a more clear view of the overall structure of the plant and a better understanding of what needs to be removed. Prune when the temperatures are around 30 degrees or so. I don’t recommend pruning if it’s considerably below freezing because the wood is brittle and will shatter when you make a cut. Pruning this time of year allows the plant begin the growing season by putting out new growth where you want it. Always use sharp pruners, loppers and saws. Clean cuts reduce the potential of disease. Make your cuts above buds at an angle which slope away from the bud. Select buds which are pointing in the desired direction. When removing diseased wood be sure to disinfect the pruning tools before using them again.
Prune ornamentals to achieve a desired shape. Remove low branches and any limbs which rub up against another. The small branches which crowd the center of the tree or shrub can be pruned as well. They are generally starved of sunlight and will not grow very well. Any branch that is growing back towards the center of the tree should be pruned as well.
Shrubs or trees which are spindly or scrawny benefit greatly for pruning. Cutting back some of the branches will force the plant bush out.
Hedges require a slightly different approach than individual tree or shrubs. They’re grown with the hope that the shrubs will intertwine forming a dense green wall. Because hedges require only a thick outer layer of foliage prune with hedge shears about twice a year. Each pruning helps provide a lush dense layer of leaves. Sometimes, however, as the plant becomes old it also becomes leggy. When this happens a more drastic pruning is required. This if fine for deciduous shrubs such as privet as they respond by putting healthy new branched. Evergreen on the other hand don’t respond as well to severe cut backs. With routine pruning of your trees and shrubs you’ll achieve your desired results.