Pruning trees: how and why you should do it
No matter what type of tree you have in your garden – apple, chestnut or plum – all need plenty of care and attention to ensure they continue to look great, year in, year out. So get out your pencil and put “pruning” high on your to-do list.
Here you can find out why it’s worth pruning your trees, and what’s the best way to do it. With our ideas and insider tips, pruning could soon become one of your favourite garden tasks.
Why prune trees?
In general, trees and shrubs grow more healthily if they are pruned or trimmed. One cut a year is enough for most trees, provided they are not affected by pests or diseases.
Pruning trees promotes the growth of thick, sturdy branches. Branches that grow densely across one another and block out the light to the lower branches should be removed, to ensure all parts of the tree get sufficient light and help the tree to grow in a more structured way and develop a beautiful crown. Limbs affected by pests can be removed entirely.
- It stimulates growth.
- Trees develop a beautiful crown.
When should you prune trees and shrubs?
Hard pruning of trees or shrubs is generally only recommended in the autumn or winter in order to protect breeding birds. Minor trimming can be done anytime throughout the year.
Also, some trees are protected by a preservation order, which means it’s not permitted to fell, prune or damage them in any way even if they are located on private premises. Please check with your local authority for more information.
The ideal time to prune a tree generally depends on the type of tree you have. In the case of fruit trees, for example, the recommended pruning time varies greatly based on the type of fruit. The same applies to conifers.
However, for many deciduous trees, late autumn is the ideal pruning time. This is the tree’s quiet period, where it has lost all its leaves but is not yet sprouting – giving you enough time to prune. What’s more, it’s easier to see where to make a cut on bare branches. Just take care not to prune on frosty days, as this could damage the tree.
For trees such as birch, sycamore and walnut, which are prone to bleeding, late summer is a good time to prune. In the spring, these varieties of trees pump sap up into their crowns. So if you prune them then, there's a risk of sap dripping from the wounds. This bleeding, which can’t be stopped, also damages the tree.
What are the benefits of pruning in the summer and winter?
The benefits of pruning in the summer:
- The trees will bear more flowers and fruit. In the case of fruit trees, you can enjoy a bigger yield.
- It’s easy to identify dead or diseased branches in the summer: they don’t have any leaves.
- Pruning wounds heal better.
- Thanks to the summer light and warm temperatures, trees and shrubs rarely fall prey to fungal diseases after pruning.
The benefits of pruning in the winter:
- Trees that aren’t growing very vigorously will grow better in spring following a winter cut.
- It’s easy to carry out corrective and shaping work on branches without leaves.
- Less sap is likely to drip from conifers in the winter, reducing any stickiness on tools and the ground beneath.
- Depending on local laws, hard pruning of trees or shrubs may only be permitted in the autumn and winter.
Which pruning technique is right for my tree?
You can maintain trees and shrubs in different ways, whether by pruning at planting, shaping or rejuvenation (hard) pruning. The technique you choose depends on the condition of the tree.
Pruning at planting
This technique is particularly suitable for young, newly planted trees. It promotes the growth of the plant and the formation of a crown, and involves pruning the main stem and a maximum of three adjacent stems.
This approach aims to give your trees and shrubs a beautiful contour. To make them look really good, you should reduce the diameter of the crown and cut back any crooked or protruding branches. To ensure the crown is even, cut back the main stems all the way around. If there are branches that are growing steeply, try cutting them away in the exact spot where a better positioned stem is growing. This will help the second stem to continue growing and develop more vigorously – allowing more light into the branches below. If you simply want to make the tree crown narrower, leave the centre stem and upper side stems as they are.
Rejuvenation (hard) pruning
With this type of pruning, you can make sure that your trees stay as healthy as possible. Simply remove any branches weakened by weather or disease, or branches that stick out too far. That way, they won’t break off during the next strong winds – potentially causing your tree further damage.
How to prune trees correctly
1. Have the right tools and equipment ready
Before you begin pruning your trees or shrubs, you need the right tools and equipment, such as gardening gloves to protect your hands from thorns, or a ladder to reach higher branches. Make sure you erect the ladder on safe and firm ground so that it doesn’t wobble when you’re up high.
- You can use secateurs to prune back thin branches. And it’s even easier with cordless secateurs that do all the hard cutting work for you – especially when handling thicker branches.
- Use pruning shears for more sturdy or stubborn branches.
- For even thicker branches, it’s best to use a pruning saw or a saw with NanoBlade technology. This will help you achieve a clean cut.
- If you’d prefer to work on taller trees without having to climb up a ladder, you can use a telescopic chain saw.
- Use a leaf blower to gather up the tree cuttings , then throw them away.
2. Check the tree or shrub thoroughly
Before you start pruning, take another good look at the entire tree or shrub. Where are there branches sticking out? How small do you want your tree or shrub to be? What should it look like after? Thinking about these things beforehand will help you to prune in a more precise, structured way and ensure your plants look even and symmetrical.
3. What are you cutting away?
To ensure the healthy growth of your tree or shrub, you should cut away all dead branches or any branches that are growing inwards. Also remove water sprouts; these grow out vertically from the tree, without branching out, so are easy to identify.
4. What is the correct way to cut branches?
When pruning a branch, always cut at the spot directly above where it meets the trunk. This is usually the thickest part of the branch.