Basic Pruning for Shrubs and Trees

You may be wondering how to prune trees or how to prune a rose bush? We prune our young trees and shrubs to control their size, shape and scale within our landscape. Proper pruning also stimulates flowering and fruit bearing and helps to keep shrubs and trees healthy and vigorous, thus reducing the likelihood of future problems. Plants that produce fruit such as bananas need tree pruning to encourage new growth and have a healthy fruit set.

There are two main types of pruning cuts: Thinning and Heading. Both can be used in different ways to make your trees grow how you want. Tree care is important for more reasons that just appearance.


Thinning cuts provide space for better branch structure Thinning cuts reduce the size of a shrub or tree while stimulating little or no new growth. When you prune a smaller branch off a larger branch, you thin the tree’s structure without stimulating new shoots to form. When you cut a branch off just beyond a smaller branch that has at least 1/3 its diameter, the remaining smaller branch takes over and you don’t get a lot of vigorous new shoots sprouting below the cut. With careful thinning cuts, you can make a shrub or tree smaller without changing its shape. You also can use thinning cuts to change its shape or direction of growth if that is what you want. Use thinning cuts to remove crossed, dead, dying or diseased branches, too. This goes for broken branches as well. You don’t want the tree sending energy to unwanted places. Use a sharp knife or hand pruners to do these cuts and prevent scars on the trunks at the ground level.

All about branch collar pruning…

Where a branch attaches to a larger branch or to the trunk, there is a slightly swollen ring called a branch collar.

Allow the tree to heal naturally after a prune by keeping the branch collar in tact The branch collar is where branches fall off naturally when their time comes. The branch collar contains natural wound healing chemicals. Never cut the branch collar off! When we prune off a branch at the outer edge of its branch collar, the wound heals rapidly and without infection. There is no need for pruning sealers, tree wound dressings or other such chemicals. In fact, research has shown that these, usually petroleum-based, chemicals actually inhibit the tree’s natural wound healing process, and can trap moisture at the wound, encouraging rot. When you cut off a branch stub attached to a larger branch or to the trunk tissue, the falling branch could tear a strip of bark off the larger branch bark or trunk, thus opening it to infection. If the branch to be removed is too large to hold in your hand, use three separate cuts to remove the branches: First, cut part way through from the underside to sever the bark. Next, cut beyond the first cut all the way through from the topside, leaving a stub. Finally, cut the stub off at the outer edge of the branch collar. Careful not to damage the branch collar because this will make it susceptible to disease.


Heading cuts encourage a flush of new shoots to sprout just below the cut and can be useful for topiary and creating hedges with a dense cloak of foliage on the outer surface. When you cut a branch off anywhere other than just beyond another branch of at least 1/3 its diameter, numerous new shoots will develop below the cut. Normally, we use heading cuts to create formal hedges with shapes like boxes or spheres, and for whimsical topiary art. Certain trees that naturally produce few side branches also can benefit from a heading cut on the main stem which will encourage more branching.

Heading cuts encourage new growth from all angles of the tree to provide equal growth

To Summarize:

The best time of year to perform these types of pruning cuts is in winter or early spring when foliage may be diminished. This provides better visibility when making your pruning cuts. During other growing seasons, the view of the tree may be obscured by leaves or fruit. 

Read more about pruning on these blog posts:

Instead of over-pruning, choose smaller trees to fit your planting site

How to prune limelight hydrangea into a tree

Be sure to check out our blog post on How to Prune Blueberry Bushes.