At Mariposa, we have a particular way of working with plants that is geared toward understanding and honoring the nature of each species. It can take a long time to learn each plant, but a few tips on ways to “listen to plants” can help all gardeners become more skilled in the art of pruning. When we say “listen” what we mean is to observe them and the way they grow closely. This practice means you don’t necessarily have to read a book on how to prune each plant (though that is also very helpful and highly recommended--especially for fruit); instead, you can find patterns in the way certain plants grow that can be applied to a number of species.
There are some general rules of pruning, however, and this post covers the basics that you can use to get started on pruning most of the trees, shrubs and perennials in your garden.
The Rules of Pruning
To prune properly, when you cut a plant’s branches or stems, always cut a little bit above a growth node, where the bark tends to get squishy or shows a bit of a ring. Just above that bark change is where the cells on the bark can generate a healthy cover to the wound. Growth nodes are the points on the stem where buds, leaves and branching twigs originate. They usually look like little brown, green or reddish nubs just poking out from the stem. Cuts should be made at a 45 degree angle and angled away from the node or bud, so that water can shed away from the plant. The drawings below show you how to cut depending on whether the plant has buds that alternate on the stem, or are opposite to each other.
The first rule of pruning is to look for the 3Ds: dead, diseased or damaged. Depending on the health of the tree or shrub to be pruned, this work can range from a small amount of clean up, to taking out a lot of material, especially if the tree or shrub has been improperly pruned in the past. If you have a tree or shrub that is congested with dead growth, that may be your main pruning task.
If your tree or shrub has minimal 3Ds, you can move onto the next phase, keeping in mind the second rule of pruning: Never take off more than ⅓ of the tree or shrub. If you take off more you can damage or even kill your plant.
Once you have taken control of the 3D’s, and you have some live plant left to work with, you can start removing crossing branches. This is particularly important for fruiting varieties, roses, and other trees and shrubs that need good air circulation. You want to focus on the branches that cross, especially in the middle of the plant, because they can invite pest and disease issues in the spot where the branches touch. This spot tends to decay, as if it is damaged or dead, which opens up an environment for pests and disease to move in.
If you have a lot of crossing branches in the middle of your plant, you will need to take the branches down to the Point of Origin (or the POO). Sometimes, the POO is at the base; sometimes the branch comes into the trunk or a to a main branch, stemming from the base. Either way, taking branches back to the POO discourages the build up of more branching in the middle of the tree or shrub, which is how plants get congested and how extreme dieback occurs.
If all of the 3D’s are taken care of, and there are no crossing branches, it’s time to start shaping. This is a more complicated aspect of pruning, and requires some experience in the cause and effect of cuts. A typical shaping issue involves a branch or branches sticking out into an entrance or a walkway. Our instinct is to cut the overreaching branch back to where we want it to be. However, said branch is likely to sprout several other branches on the nodes directly below the cut, creating an even more congested feel once those branches start to mature. Again, the POO is the rule. Taking the branch that is overreaching back down to its POO eliminates the threat of branches emerging from the lower nodes. It also gives the tree or shrub an opportunity to put more energy into branches that are growing at a more desirable height. So, when shaping, consider the entire branch, and the effect the cut will have on the future growth of the plant. Every cut has a consequence.
Basic botany: how pruning works to stimulate plant growth
Just like most living organisms, plants have hormones that determine their growth patterns. We can control how a plant grows by understanding how to stimulate plant hormones with careful pruning.
Cutting back lower branches or stems stimulates the hormones that control the upward growth and the height of the plant. If you want a plant to grow taller, or to produce more main stems from the base, remove the lower branches or branches at the base and the remaining stems or branches will grow taller, rather than bushier.
If you want a plant to grow in fuller, use tip pruning, which means cut back the tips of branches or stems. Tip pruning stimulates growth on the nodes that are just below the cut. Some plants will grow heavily in the 2-3 nodes below the cut, some plants will show stimulation down the whole branch. Either way, a tip prune promotes bushy growth.
Where you cut will be determined by where you want the growth to be concentrated. For example, if you have a “lopsided” tree or shrub with uneven bushiness on one side, you might be tempted to cut back the full side, in order to give the thin side a growth advantage. However, a hard prune like that on the bushier side is only going to promote more branching and more growth. In this case, we need to take a very counter-intuitive approach and do a harder prune on the thin side, knowing that each cut will increase the branching below the cut. The heavy side may get a few select cuts on branches that are large, or on branches that are smaller but grow too close or in the wrong direction. These cuts are taken back to the POO so they won’t create side shoots.
Pruning fruit trees
At this time of year, we focus on pruning fruit trees. Fruiting trees can also be summer pruned, but the most popular time of year for pruning fruit trees is winter, before the buds break. Here in the Bay Area, because of our wet rainy winters, we like to wait to prune until as late in the season as possible (the exact timing depends on the fruit). Rain and moisture on a fresh cut can increase the possibility of fungal diseases. That said, waiting too long, after the buds have begun to break can also be hard on fruit trees.
The important thing to know, when pruning fruit trees, is whether they are tip bearing or spur bearing. Some trees produce their flower buds and fruit on the tips of branches, right at the end, instead of on fruiting spurs situated along the branch. Some fruit trees, such as apples, have both tip bearing and spur bearing varieties. Most fruit trees found in local nurseries are spur-bearing, as shown in the picture below, but it is important to be able to tell the difference, because the pruning techniques are quite different. Pruning a tip bearing tree in the wrong places will reduce its fruiting capacity.
In a spur bearing tree, cut the branch leaders by one quarter of the year’s growth, to an outward facing bud. In addition, prune strong lateral branches down to just 4-6 buds, to encourage fruiting spurs.
In tip bearing trees, cut the branch leaders by one quarter only, also to an outward facing bud. The remaining side shoots should stay unpruned, unless badly damaged, as they will bear the fruit for the coming year.
Now is the time
February is a great month to prune your trees and shrubs so they'll be ready to grow vigorously in the spring and summer months ahead. It's a good time to add organic amendments such as compost, mulch, and worm castings to the soil, too, to feed your garden's green inhabitants as they get ready for the latest cycle of growing, flowering, and creating fruit and seeds.
This past April I moved into a house that has a lot of trees on the property. So, I liked that you pointed out that it would be smart to make sure that when trimming trees I will want to make sure that I don't make the tree lopsided. That seems like it would be a better idea for me to get a professional to help me with trimming.
7/7/2020 09:49:09 pm
I've been wanting to have my trees pruned because I heard that this can help keep it healthy; that's why I'm currently looking for a tree service. Thank you for pointing the importance of determining whether the tree has a dead, diseased, or damaged branch. I'd also keep in mind to start removing any crossing branches.
9/2/2020 08:01:00 am
My sister noticed that one of her trees is becoming overgrown since the branches are starting to rub against her house. Thanks for explaining how she should cut where the bark is squishy or shows some of a ring, which is always little above growth nodes. I'll share this with her and tell her to find a store where she can purchase the proper arborist supplies to do this.
9/3/2020 06:59:52 am
Thank you for sharing this information on home vegetable garden ideas. It was useful and interesting. You indeed have written it in a layman way so that anyone can understand and work accordingly. You have done a great job.
11/27/2020 05:21:30 am
Nice Article...Very interesting to read this article. I have learned some new information. Thanks for sharing.
11/28/2020 02:33:44 am
Very thankful for this wonderful article, it seem like it will really help with what I need to get done. Thank you very much for the post!
11/28/2020 02:51:11 am
Thanks for having this article, it helps a lot. It’s a well-written blog and it is very informative. Keep on blogging, looking forward to see more of your posts!
12/16/2020 01:35:29 am
Oh My God!!! This is a great blog, I am happy that I have come across this one. It’s an amazing blog to read about pruning for health and seasonal interest . Thanks for this wonderful content. I loved reading your article, will definitely give it a try to store as per your advice. Great blog to share!!I must say this, if you get time can visit https://www.thetreeman.co.nz for ideas on this topic.
1/1/2021 03:17:37 am
This concept is very good which give us information regarding pruning for the health and seasonal interest. It is a pleasure worth reading this article. I enjoyed reading this article and would suggest others to come In this particular blog and get all the information regarding it.
1/26/2021 02:48:22 pm
Thanks for the tip to cut above the growth node when you cut a plant's branch or stems. I have no idea how to do that on a tree. Maybe I can hire some professionals to cut the tree for me.
1/28/2021 07:18:19 pm
I really want to take care of a lot of the trees on my property this year. Thanks for pointing out that it would be smart to consider getting some of the pruning done by an expert. It does seem like a good thing to get a professional to handle everything so none of the trees get super damaged.
3/23/2021 08:32:26 pm
This is by far the most concise and informative! Pruning fruit trees will help in many ways. It will help with fruit yields, reduce transplant shock, increase air flow, disease reduction, and keeping the overall size to something manageable.
5/10/2021 01:47:59 am
You made a good point when you shared that it is important to prune properly when you cut a plant’s branches or stems. My friend just mentioned the other day that she is thinking of improving the appearance of her house as she wants to make it look nice and appealing to impress her guests. I will suggest to her getting a relaible service that can help prune her trees nicely.
6/8/2021 06:33:07 pm
I want to thank you for sharing your knowledge with the world. I learned a lot from your post about how and when to prune trees, shrubs and perennials!
6/8/2021 06:35:36 pm
Thank you so much for posting such an informative article on pruning. I found it very helpful and now know why my new shrubs are looking terrible!
10/1/2021 10:45:39 pm
The 3 D's; dead, diseased or damaged. Very important. Thank you for pointing these 3 out. Also the crossing branches definitely should be considered when pruning. Thank you for sharing. Very helpful post.
10/17/2021 10:08:54 pm
We live in the further parts of the suburbs where you're backyard is an entire forest. Thanks of the information that some fruit trees grow their flowers at the tip of the branch. I'd have to let tree trimming services check this carefully since I'd still like some to bear fruit.
11/19/2021 03:02:13 am
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12/8/2021 08:29:16 pm
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1/5/2022 05:11:08 am
Thanks for helping me understand that pruning trees are important since it removes dead and possibly hazardous branches
When clipping away all the dead growth at the base of the plant, be careful to not injure the new pink shoots at the crown. Then prune each strong cane from the root crown about six inches above its point of attachment to the top horizontal support of the trellis.
3/2/2022 01:44:22 am
One of the most crucial tools is a decent set of pruning shears. They can be used to make cuts up to 3/4 inch in diameter. Lopping shears are similar to pruning shears, but they have longer handles that allow more leverage for cutting branches up to 1 1/2 inches in diameter. Hedge shears are only for pruning hedges and should not be used for anything else. They're best in cutting succulent or small stems. Hand saws are essential for cutting branches larger than one inch in diameter. Handsaws come in a variety of shapes and sizes. Larger branches – up to 4 inches in diameter – are easily cut through with special tri-cut or razor tooth pruning saws.
4/18/2022 07:21:26 pm
Your local landscape professional can help create a strategic tree planting plan to place the right trees in the right places to save on energy costs and benefit the overall climate around you.
4/25/2022 11:01:55 pm
You have a good point here!I totally agree with what you have said!! Thanks for sharing your views. hope more people will read this article!!!
4/25/2022 11:07:37 pm
This is a great article thanks for sharing this informative information. I will visit your blog regularly for some latest post.
5/25/2022 10:15:04 pm
I was captured when you discussed that proper tree pruning involves cutting a little bit above a growth node. My mother wants to insure that our trees are pruned properly. I think that's achievable with the help of a tree pruning service with vast of experience in the field.
5/26/2022 06:03:18 pm
I like your tree tips. I need to cut down a fir tree. I don't have the tools though.
5/31/2022 07:52:04 am
Thank you for explaining how pruning works. I've been curious about this for a while now. We were told we need some of our trees pruned and now it makes more sense.
6/18/2022 03:11:32 am
Glad to found this great information. Keep sharing.
7/14/2022 03:57:34 am
Wow! What a wonderful article it is. I am just looking for this kind of blog to get best support for my tree work. I will share this blog to my other friends as they will also get best knowledge and assistance from this blog. Thanks for sharing an informative and helpful blog for tree service.
7/14/2022 04:11:21 am
It is really good to find this kind of helpful and more informative article. Entire discussion is really gives best support to anyone to plan their tree service accordingly, especially for me. Thanks a lot; hope will see you in future in another informative blog.
7/14/2022 04:17:23 am
I have enjoyed reading this report about tree services. Really it is more useful and also helpful. I am very glad to go through this kind of informative article. Thanks for sharing a nice blog.
7/19/2022 01:27:54 am
Pruning a fruit tree to help improve its crop and produce feels very crucial for homeowners like us. Since we have apple trees on our property, and we enjoy some very fresh produce every now and then and would like to continue enjoying this benefit for years. To do that, I'll ask a landscape expert to stop by for some tree care whenever needed.
8/7/2022 10:38:17 am
Pruning every year gives trees thicker branches, and keeps the tree shorter, making that fruit easier to harvest. Increases tree safety – Safety might be the important reason to prune, especially for larger trees. Large, dead, or damaged limbs can break and fall unexpectedly.
8/22/2022 02:20:43 am
Timely indeed! I am into gardening and find this post really helpful. Thank you for this.
8/23/2022 07:21:43 am
Nice one! This will be helpful once I'm done fixing my pathway on my yard.
8/25/2022 08:32:26 am
Great find! I'll definitely save this one and share this blog to others.
9/20/2022 01:50:26 am
Excellent tips and tricks to follow for all levels of gardeners!
9/20/2022 01:53:27 am
Excellent knowledge in this article highly recommend it to new readers!
9/22/2022 02:10:38 am
Excellent blog! This is especially useful if you have a fully grown tree at your home.
9/25/2022 08:27:42 pm
Pruning eliminates dying and dead branches and stubs to make place for new growth and to prevent harm to your property and bystanders. Additionally, it prevents animal and pest invasion, encourages the plant's natural structure, and fosters healthy growth.
9/25/2022 10:17:20 pm
When you prune, you remove specific branches from a tree. The objective is to prune out undesirable branches, strengthen the tree's framework, and guide new, healthy growth.
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10/12/2022 04:22:46 am
Great tips! This should help me get on the right track with my tree pruning service.
10/12/2022 09:41:32 pm
I appreciate you mentioning that it's important to pay attention to branches that cross, especially in the center of the plant, since they might cause insect and disease problems where the branches meet. My grandma laments the diseased state of her trees. To assist her with pruning and trimming trees, I will engage a business that provides tree diagnosis solutions.
10/24/2022 10:57:39 pm
I appreciate you explaining to us why trimming trees is crucial because it gets rid of any dead or potentially dangerous limbs. This idea is excellent because it informs us about trimming for seasonal interest and health. It was enjoyable to read this article. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this article and would advise others to visit this page to learn everything there is to know about it.
10/26/2022 08:46:07 pm
To make room for future growth and to protect your property and bystanders, pruning removes dead and dying branches and stubs.
10/26/2022 08:49:45 pm
To avoid growing issues and to maintain their health and attractiveness, prune trees and shrubs. ... The majority of pruning should be done in the late dormant season.
11/17/2022 07:24:30 am
I want to make sure that my trees are healthy. It's good to know tree trimming can be so beneficial for the health of a tree. It would be a good idea for me to get a professional to help me out with this. That seems like a good way to ensure that the trees area healthy.
12/10/2022 10:48:22 pm
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12/12/2022 05:16:00 pm
The serenity we feel can significantly reduce stress, fatigue and even decrease recovery time from surgery and illness. Green spaces may also help lower the level of crime within urban environments.
12/13/2022 04:37:49 pm
It's great that you elaborated that you should be aware that you should cut the proper part of the node for a great pruning process. My father informed me the other day that some of their trees have broken branches. He asked if I had any thoughts on the best process for better tree growth. I'm grateful for this instructive article. I'll tell him that he should consult trusted tree pruning services as they can provide details about their services.
I never took into account the fact that there is a need to cut a bit above the growth node when dealing with the plant's branches. I guess handling this kind of process is not an easy task, because it has to be done correctly. And it seems that the tree trimming processes has to be done right or else the plant will suffer and might die.
12/28/2022 01:25:11 am
Thanks for helping me understand that cutting the branches above the growth node would be the right way to prune the plant. Personally, I have no green thumb, so I think just hiring a tree care service would be the best thing to do. Since I might just end up damaging the plant if I try to do anything to it other than watering it.
1/4/2023 12:17:45 pm
You made an interesting point when you mentioned that February is a good time to prune your shrubs. I would imagine that you could kill your shrubs if you trim too many leaves and branches. Hiring a landscaping contractor seems like a good way to make sure that your shrubs receive the proper care.
1/17/2023 07:09:27 am
How does pruning make the plant have better health and growth?
1/18/2023 12:39:29 pm
Thanks for sharing this post, it is very helpful article.
1/23/2023 07:41:25 am
have a particular way of working with plants that is geared toward understanding and honoring the nature of each species.
1/25/2023 08:59:01 am
I always watch my plants closely after planting them, that's the best way to see if they need some special care while they're growing up! if you want to have a beautiful garden the you need more that beautiful plants and trees, you also need a perfectly designed space so you can enjoy the are to it's fullest! So I would like to recommend you the best concrete patio company in fargo nd!
2/9/2023 08:38:34 pm
Pruning is an important part of garden maintenance, and can be used to maintain the health of trees and plants, as well as to create seasonal interest. Pruning for health is necessary to remove dead, diseased or damaged branches, or to open up the canopy of the tree to allow air flow and light. Pruning for seasonal interest can be used to create a desired shape and size, or to encourage flowering or fruiting.
2/20/2023 04:51:20 am
Prune trees and shrubs to prevent growth problems and maintain health and beauty.
2/22/2023 10:43:52 pm
Hi, Its like you read my mind! You seem to know so much about this, like you wrote the book in it or something. I think that you could do with some pics to drive the message home a bit, but other than that, this is great blog.
2/27/2023 05:02:00 am
Nice! And I agree on this. See more from our website.
3/6/2023 06:11:06 pm
This is a great way to prune trees, it's one of my favorite parts about gardening because I find it really relaxing. I would like to recommend my favorite hvac in gainesville
3/6/2023 06:53:23 pm
I'm glad you talked about how proper pruning could help generate healthy growth for your trees. My brother informed me the other day that their tree has broken branches. He asked if I had thoughts on the best option for healthy tree growth. I'm thankful for this enlightening article. I'll tell him he should consult trusted tree trimming services as they can provide details about the process.
3/13/2023 07:46:04 pm
Thank you for mentioning that in order to prune a plant correctly, you should always cut a plant's branches or stems a little bit above a growth node, where the bark tends to get spongy or exhibit a little ring. My sister complained that a tree in front of her home was obstructing it. I'll advise her to hire a tree removal company.
3/16/2023 10:33:33 am
Pruning can make your trees grow beautifully!
3/28/2023 02:00:34 am
Wow! This post on pruning is such an invaluable resource for gardeners! It's clear the authors sincerely appreciate each plant species, and their tips on " listening " and recognizing growth patterns are valuable. I especially like how they stress taking care when making cuts and understanding their effects.
5/9/2023 11:12:50 pm
Learning to "listen to plants" can help gardeners become more skilled at pruning. Observing the way certain plants grow can be applied to many species. When pruning, it's important to look for the 3Ds: dead, diseased, or damaged, and never take off more than 1/3 of the plant. Removing crossing branches is also important to prevent pests and disease. Shaping requires experience and understanding the effects of each cut. Always cut a little above a growth node and at a 45-degree angle.
5/17/2023 04:46:22 am
Gardeners can learn a lot from the blog post by Mariposa Gardening about pruning for health and seasonal interest. It highlights the significance of routine pruning to preserve plant health and encourage vigorous development. It's worth reading for anyone wishing to improve their garden's beauty and health through proper pruning practices because of the author's useful insights and suggestions.
5/17/2023 07:30:22 pm
This blog on 'Pruning for Health and Seasonal Interest' is a fantastic resource for anyone looking to enhance the health and aesthetics of their plants. The article provides valuable insights into the importance of proper pruning techniques, covering topics such as timing, tools, and methods to encourage healthy growth and maximize seasonal interest. The emphasis on removing dead or diseased branches, promoting air circulation, and shaping plants for visual appeal showcases the author's expertise and passion for horticulture. Whether you're a seasoned gardener or a beginner, this blog offers practical tips and guidelines to help you achieve beautiful and thriving plants year-round. Don't miss out on this valuable resource
5/22/2023 11:04:19 am
We have been pruning our trees for 5 years now and wow what a huge difference it has made. They are so much healthier and stronger.
5/22/2023 08:57:50 pm
As an avid gardener, I appreciate their emphasis on observing and "listening" to plants rather than solely relying on books. Including practical tips and detailed illustrations further enhances the reader's understanding of pruning techniques. Across the board, this post provides a valuable resource for gardeners seeking to improve their pruning skills and foster healthy, vibrant plants.
5/22/2023 09:01:35 pm
I could feel their deep understanding and respect for each species, which made me appreciate the art of pruning even more. The personal experiences shared added a relatable touch and made the instructions feel more grounded and relatable. I'm inspired to apply these tips to my own garden and experience the benefits of proper pruning firsthand.
5/25/2023 09:38:58 am
Great guide, I'll be pruning my trees and shrubs this weekend, thanks!
5/29/2023 07:34:28 pm
Wow, what an informative and practical blog post on pruning for health and seasonal interest! The author's emphasis on understanding and listening to plants really resonated with me. This post beautifully captures the essence of the pruning process and motivates gardeners to embark on this rewarding journey of nurturing their plants. Happy pruning and may your garden flourish with abundant greenery and blossoms!
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Andrea Hurd, founder of Mariposa Gardening & Design.
Mariposa Gardening & Design
Oakland, CA 94612
PO Box 24072
Oakland, CA 94623