How to Prune Trees and Shrubs

In this video, we’re going to show you the proper way to prune and trim trees, bushes and shrubs. We’ll teach you the right way to cut tree limbs as well as the basics of pruning bushes and shrubs for both the health of the plant and to keep them looking their best.

Tools

Steps

  1. How to Prune Trees and Shrubs - Step 1

    For shade trees, it’s recommended to prune in late fall and winter

  2. How to Prune Trees and Shrubs - Step 2

    For Flowering trees, it’s best to prune them during the growing season.

  3. How to Prune Trees and Shrubs - Step 3

    Crown thinning means selectively remove branches in the top two-thirds of the tree to increase air and light penetration while still maintaining the tree’s basic structure. Don’t remove more than 25% of the limbs.

  4. How to Prune Trees and Shrubs - Step 4

    Crown raising means removing branches from the bottom of the tree’s crown.

  5. How to Prune Trees and Shrubs - Step 5

    Loppers are used for cutting branches up to 2″ in diameter.

  6. How to Prune Trees and Shrubs - Step 6

    Pruning saws are used for cutting larger branches.

  7. How to Prune Trees and Shrubs - Step 7

    Pole pruners can be extended to reach higher branches.

  8. How to Prune Trees and Shrubs - Step 8

    Locate the branch collar, which is just outside the branch ridge bark connecting it to the trunk.

  9. How to Prune Trees and Shrubs - Step 9

    About a foot away from the branch collar, cut underneath the branch to halfway. Then cut the top side until the branch falls.

  10. How to Prune Trees and Shrubs - Step 10

    Now that most of the weight is gone, it’s safe to cut next to the branch collar.

  11. How to Prune Trees and Shrubs - Step 11

    For small branches, cut above the bud to promote growth.

  12. How to Prune Trees and Shrubs - Step 12

    For shrubs, thin out one-third of the old base stems for three consecutive seasons.

  13. How to Prune Trees and Shrubs - Step 13

    Thin down the branches that are left over. Be sure to cut above the bud or the branch will die.


Read Video Transcript

One thing many homeowners often neglect when it comes to routine yard maintenance is proper pruning of the trees, bushes and shrubs in your yard. Just like your lawn, the trees and bushes in your yard need your attention from time to time. They don’t require much, just sunlight, water and a good pruning on an annual basis.

In this video, we’re going to show you the proper way to prune and trim trees, bushes and shrubs. We’ll teach you the right way to cut tree limbs as well as the basics of pruning bushes and shrubs for both the health of the plant and to keep them looking their best … So let’s get started.

We’ll start with the basics of tree pruning. Over the course of time, your pruning efforts can make all the difference in what your trees will end up looking like. Here you see a full growth tree that was neglected over time. It’s basically an undesirable weed at this point, and eventually it will need to be removed as a matter of safety. Over here, however, you see a tree that has been properly trimmed over time. What a difference it makes.

That’s why it’s best to start pruning trees when they are young, so you can control the shape of the tree before it gets too large and unruly. For example, here’s a branch that needs pruned. But we don’t want to prune it just anywhere. We want to make our cut in the right place, above the location of a bud, to prevent damage and encourage future growth.

One of the most common questions homeowners have regarding pruning bushes and trees is “When is the best time of year to do it?” For most common hardwood shade trees like these maples, late fall and winter is the perfect time, after most of the leaves have fallen. One benefit of pruning right before the leaves fall is that you can easily tell the live limbs from dead ones, as you see in this Oak Tree. For flowering, fruit and ornamental trees, many times the best time to prune is during the growing season. Check with your local independent home improvement retailer or local extension agent for the best time to prune specific trees and shrubs in your region.

There are several different types of tree pruning methods that you need to understand, including Crown Thinning and Crown Raising. Crown thinning is when you selectively remove branches in the top two-thirds of the tree to increase air and light penetration while still maintaining the tree’s basic structure. When thinning a tree’s crown, no more than 25 percent of the limbs should be removed at one time to prevent stress to the tree. Crown raising is when branches are removed from the bottom of the tree’s crown. A good rule of thumb is that the crown of a tree should represent the upper two-thirds of a tree’s total height. Looks like we have some trimming to do.

There are a variety of tools you can use to cut tree limbs, including loppers like the ones I’m holding here, designed for cutting branches up to 2” in diameter, and pruning saws like this, for cutting larger branches and limbs.

Pole pruners, like this one, can be extended to reach higher branches that you otherwise couldn’t reach without a ladder. Just a pull of the rope engages the pruner. Or, we can use the saw blade to cut larger branches.

For this branch we’ll use our hand-held tree saw and illustrate the three-cut method. First, we need to locate the branch collar, which is where the branch meets the stem (or trunk) in this case. This is just outside the branch ridge bark, which is this ridge. Always remember that pruning cuts should never damage the branch collar or the branch ridge bark.

In the three step method, we’ll make the first cut about half way through the underside of the branch, about a foot away from the trunk to prevent the trunk from splintering when the limb falls. The second cut will be made all the way through the limb several inches beyond the first cut. After the limb falls, the last cut should be made just outside the branch collar. Always remember that when trimming tree limbs, safety should be your number one priority. See our list of Frequently Asked Questions for more information and general safety tips and guidelines when pruning trees and shrubs.

There is also an art and a science, to pruning the bushes and shrubs in your yard, and much depends on the type of bush or shrub you happen to be dealing with, as well as the time of year. But the same basic principles of pruning also apply to many bushes and shrubs. The main difference is that with bushes and shrubs, you can generally be more aggressive than with trees. For example, some bushes can be cut all the way back to the ground, in a technique called Rejuvenation Pruning. Next spring, new shoots will emerge from the base, some of which will need to be removed to thin the plant.

One of the most common problems is what to do with an old bush or shrub that hasn’t been pruned for years, like this burning bush. For this job we’ll need some sharp pruners, as well as our loppers. Here I’m holding the two basic types of pruners, including bypass pruners, where the blades bypass each other during the cut, and these anvil type pruners.

We’ll use the Renewal Pruning Method for this bush, which requires thinning the bush and removing one third of the old branches at ground level for three consecutive seasons. We’ll also shape what’s left, always remembering to cut above the bud to encourage a new branch to develop from the bud and to prevent stem die-back, which you see here, which resulted from the branch being cut below the bud. The bud would have been above this cut.

Next year, we’ll remove another third and thin out the new growth. Finally, at the end of the third year, all of the old growth will have been removed and we’ll have a fully rejuvenated shrub.

So there you have it. Now you know that with a little effort and a basic understanding of they grow, you can make a big difference in the health and appearance of the trees, bushes and shrubs in your yard.

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