Pruning: how and when to prune trees and bushes correctly
Whether you have an apple tree, a rose bush or hydrangeas, all plants need looking after to bring out their best and make your garden flourish. To ensure your plants flower well each year, they need to be pruned every now and then. But bear in mind that each type of plant needs to be cut back differently and you may need to tailor your technique accordingly. That's why pruning trees and bushes takes a certain level of skill. You'll find out why you need to add pruning your plants to your to-do list from now on, what you need to look out for in different plant types and how you can start pruning like a pro without breaking a sweat.
Get your pruning shears out: why pruning is necessary
Plants grow stronger, healthier, bear more fruit and develop in a more controlled manner if they're pruned regularly. Pruning fruit trees such as apple trees or plum trees the right way encourages a rich harvest while pruning ornamental shrubs such as hydrangeas or rhododendrons results in more flowers. Cutting back your plants ensures they look their best and keeps their growth in check. While thinning out your plants enables better air circulation and helps your plants to get enough natural light. Plus, if pruning is done correctly, all plants respond by growing vigorously in a controlled manner.
- Plants grow in a more structured, healthier way.
- Plant growth can be guided.
- Fruit trees produce rich harvests.
- Bushes and shrubs produce more flowers.
Tailor your cuts: every plant has its own needs
Do you have at least one tree, a herb bed, a raspberry bush and rose in your garden? That's great. But do you know what type of pruning is suitable for which plants at what time of the year? There's no universal answer to this question, because there are as many different types of pruning depending on the plant. Whether you're pruning fruit trees or ornamental trees, shrubs or bushes, how often they flower, their growth cycles and their sensitivity determines when and how you prune them. Does that sound really complicated? Don't worry – you'll see that with a few tips and tricks, it's actually really easy to cut back your plants effectively.
- Plants don’t tend to be pruned between October and January.
- There's not enough time for recovery.
- More sensitive plants can be damaged by frost.
Timing is everything: when your plants need pruning
Every tree or bush has its own ideal time for pruning. But generally speaking, there are three to four pruning periods depending on when your plants flower.
Plants which bloom in the summer are pruned in the spring. These tend to be trees and shrubs which bear fruit or flowers in the summer, such as apple trees or hibiscus. From mid-January onwards, after the winter break, plants begin to pump energy into their stems and branches to prepare themselves for growth. Pruning them when they are in this phase of their cycle directs energy to the desired buds or takes the pressure off the tree or bush by removing dead wood and surplus branches.
As the name suggests, early bloomers bloom quite early on in the year, so they will already have grown buds on their shoots the previous year. One example of an early bloomer is lilacs. It's better to prune lilacs once they've flowered because otherwise you'll remove the majority of the flowering buds and stop them from blooming. Once they've flowered, it's advisable to remove wilted flowers using pruning shears and to shorten twigs where necessary. The following year's flowering buds will develop on new shoots.
Summer pruning is cutting back the growth once the leaves have grown. This tends to be the period between June and mid-September. Pruning slows down growth and encourages larger fruit. Summer pruning is especially great for sensitive trees because wounds heal quicker during this period, which helps to prevent diseases. This includes trees such as birch, maple and walnut trees, which tend to bleed.
Bleeding refers to sap oozing out of a plant during a pruning cut. As a rule, trees and shrubs are usually able to heal their wounds themselves. Summer pruning is recommended for plants, which tend to bleed more.
For many deciduous trees, late autumn is a good time to get your shears out. 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.
Getting the perfect cut: an overview of different types of cuts
Each of your plants is unique and depending on what type of plant it is and its age, it will need to be handled in a certain way. But generally speaking, it's important to remove wilted flowers or shrivelled fruits from your shrubs and bushes, as well as damaged or diseased branches.
Whatever type of pruning cut you make, try to cut above an outward-facing bud or eye so that you don't get any branches or twigs facing inwards. The cut should always be made at a downward-facing 45-degree angle.
Pruning new plants
This type of pruning is best suited for young, freshly planted trees or shrubs. It promotes growth and defines the crown or shape of the plant. Remove the shoots that compete with the stem and shorten three to four boughs, which help to form the crown. Cut back the plant a little, to ensure it isn't overloaded.
This type of pruning gives your plant the shape you want in the first few years. When pruning trees, you can accentuate the boughs and leading shoots and support the development of a pyramid-shaped crown. When pruning shrubs, you can thin out the shoots near the base once the shrub has grown. Remove offshoots and get rid of or shorten inward-facing or competitive shoots.
Renovating old trees
You can strengthen plants that are already flowering or bearing fruit by maintaining and renovating them. This also promotes good health. Cut off crooked or overhanging branches as well as branches that are growing quickly. You can redirect branches or twigs that are upward-facing by cutting back a branch to the point where a better-positioned side shoot is growing. This will allow the better-positioned shoot to grow more vigorously.
This type of pruning involves thoroughly removing weaker twigs, sprawling branches or overgrown shoots. Thinning out the branches to ensure enough light reaches the remaining branches and twigs is especially important for older shrubs and trees. This promotes air circulation and stimulates the growth of young shoots.
The art of pruning: here's how it works
Once you've determined the best time to prune your tree or shrub and you know what kind of pruning technique would suit your plant best, you can get started.
What tools do I need?
As with any kind of work, high-quality tools are the key to success when pruning plants. The following equipment is useful:
- Pruning shears – when pruning plants, your pruning shears are your most important tool. Sharp blades will do the least damage to your plants. However, note that the more strength you put in when making cuts, the more the branch or plant stem will be bruised. So for thicker branches, using cordless secateurs such as the Easyprune is a good option.
- Pruning saw – as well as pruning shears, you need a saw for trees or taller shrubs, since you may need to cut larger branches every now and then.
- Ladder – a ladder is advisable if you're working in a tree crown or for overhanging shrubs. Always make sure the ladder is safely positioned on stable ground before you start work. Gardening gloves – to ensure a better grip and to protect your hands, especially when you are pruning roses[AP1] , it's useful to wear gloves when gardening.
- Bag – put all the branches, shoots and flowers you have cut away in a bag. For larger clippings, you can use a shredder.
How do I get started?
Take a good look at the tree or shrub you want to prune as a whole. That will enable you to be more precise and structured in your approach. Try to retain the character of the tree or shrub with every pruning cut. You should ask yourself the following questions:
- Where are the branches or twigs protruding from?
- Are there any inward-facing or competitive shoots?
- Are there any dead flowers, suckers or damaged branches?
- How much of your plant do you want to remove?
- How do you want it to look afterwards?
What should I cut back?
To encourage healthy growth, you should generally cut back dead or inward-facing branches and twigs. When pruning trees, get rid of water sprouts and remove suckers on shrubs. Water sprouts grow vertically without branching, so they are easy to spot. Suckers are branches that grow under the bud union on rose bushes, for example. When you shorten or thin out branches, you promote growth of the buds and twigs underneath.
How do I cut back branches and twigs correctly?
Always cut branches directly above the branch collar. This is where the branch protrudes from the trunk and it tends to be a little bit thicker than the rest of the branch. Always try to cut above an outward-facing bud to avoid inward-growing shoots. Make the cut as clean as possible and face it downwards at a 45-degree angle. Use your saw for thicker branches: saw a notch into the underside and then cut from above to prevent damage to the bark and protect against diseases.
What do I do with the clippings?
You can grind up the branch, twig and flower clippings using a shredder and then dispose of them in an organic waste bin or by composting them. A wheelbarrow can be useful for carrying clippings from trees or larger shrubs.