Want to know when to prune the trees, shrubs, and vines in your garden? These tips for the home gardener share the best timing, depending on what it is you are growing, and which tools get the job done.
Once you know the basics, it’s much easier to know what needs pruning and what to leave alone.
I may receive a commission if you purchase something mentioned in a link on this post for shopping sites. Other links may go to websites where I have been paid to write a blog or article. See the entire disclosure here.
To prune or not to prune? Shakespeare didn’t know either. To remedy this, see these answers to the most frequently-asked pruning questions. I’ve done my best to simplify everything so you can get the right tool, trim at the right time, and ignore the rest.
When to Prune
1 Is there an easy way to know when to prune?
Instead of listing a chart with a ton of plant names, I give you the basic principles of pruning. It sounds complicated and, though it does require some thought, but once you know the reasons why we prune and when, it’s so much easier to make decisions out in the garden without having to look anything up. It’s part of my own stress-free approach to gardening.
2 Should I prune my hydrangea? And, if so, when?
This is one of the most frequently-asked questions and, ironically, not really necessary since most hydrangeas should not or need not be pruned.
The first step is knowing which type you have. Once you know that, you will know when or if to prune. Click here to see photos of the main hydrangea groups and advice for pruning.
Which Tool to Use
3 How do I know if I need pruners, loppers, or a saw? And what is the difference between anvil, ratchet, and bypass? Or does it matter?
Oh. My. Goodness. Have you ever stood in the garden tool section of a home improvement store and tried to muddle through the numerous tool choices? It’s far too easy to buy the wrong one.
Not only do you need to make sure the tool is comfortable to use and strong enough to make the cuts you need, but you must also watch that the size of the bite is big enough to get around the branches.
Not to worry: here’s a simple guide for choosing the right pruning tool.
Reaching the Tall Stuff
4 Is there a way to reach the high-up stuff without hiring help?
This one tool (Fiskars Pole Saw and Tree Pruner) can pay for itself after just one use. It sure did for me because it saved me from having to hire a professional.
Wherever possible, I prefer to do things myself if it’s safe to do so and I can save the money.
Have a look at these tips, and the tool of choice for reaching those high-up, hard-to-reach branches.
5 What should I prune in fall?
Fall is the time to take care of pruning we may have overlooked in the summer, specifically, dead, damaged, and diseased branches. See Fall Pruning Tips here.
6 What should I prune in winter?
Winter is prime time for pruning. If you live in a cold climate, trees and shrubs are dormant and that provides a good opportunity to prune and shape plants for better looks and health.
7 How do I prune tomato vines?
It’s a hot topic! Some people don’t prune their tomatoes at all. Others, like me, do remove branches and suckers for several reasons. See How to Prune Tomatoes here.
Prune Potted Tree Roots
8 What is root pruning and how do I do it?
Every few years I prune the roots of my fig trees that are growing in containers. You can read more about it here: Overwintering Potted Trees.
Making the Cuts
9 How do I know what cuts to make?
It depends on what you are trying to achieve. Pruning has many purposes but none of them are to randomly chop up the plant!
Be sure your tree, shrub, or vine needs pruning and know what you are doing it. That will inform what you remove.
Unless you are removing dead, damaged, or diseased branches—which can be pruned at any time, I recommend looking up a tutorial for that specific plant (assuming you’re new to it and do not have an eye for it yet).
For example, I have several fruit trees. I knew they would grow better and stronger over the years if I kept them in good shape, removing crossing branches, unnecessary growth, and flimsy long branches. I got a good book on organic fruit tree care with excellent illustrations (The Holistic Orchard by Michael Phillips), and, after reading the pruning section a few times, I had the a-ha moment where, suddenly, I could clearly see exactly what to prune.
It was worth the learning curve because now I have an eye for it and can see immediately what needs pruning each year without looking it up. I do this with each plant type in my garden, and, thankfully, the information sticks after doing it a few times.
You may prefer to find YouTube videos that demonstrate various pruning cuts with actual trees, instead of looking at drawings.
Happy pruning to you. I hope you find it as enjoyable as I do. Sign up for the free newsletter if you want more garden tips and creative ideas.
~Melissa the Empress of Dirt ♛