Regularly pruning bushes and shrubs can make the difference between a ragged, scraggly garden and an attractive, lush showplace. These tips will guide you through the basics.
By the DIY experts of The Family Handyman Magazine:March 2009
Some arborists call these the 4 Ds.
Start with the dead and damaged
branches, because they make the
plant look bad, and encourage rot
and disease. Also cut out wilted,
dried or diseased branches as soon
as you spot them, to remove the disease
before it spreads. “Deranged”
includes a broad range of branches
that cross (the rubbing wears away
the bark), loop down to
the ground or simply look out of
character with the bush (stick out at
an odd angle or grow alongside the
trunk). This pruning also thins out
the bush, opening its interior to more
light and air, which encourages
fuller, healthier growth.
Cut the branch tip just beyond a bud.
Next year growth will be channeled into the side branches, making a fuller appearance.
This “heading off” technique channels
more growth energy to smaller side
branches, which will then fill in
vacant areas. Make this cut at a side
branch or 1/4 in. beyond a bud. Be selective and watch the
results from the previous year to help
gauge future growth. It works best on
bushes and trees that grow mostly
from one or a few stalks, as opposed to
bushes that continually send up new
shoots (suckers), like lilacs and
It's tempting to grab the hedge shears and shape a bush by cutting off the
branch tips. This “flattop haircut” approach may look fine for a year or two,
but it stimulates growth on the outermost branches, forces the bush to grow
into an unnatural shape (your idea rather than the plant's) and fails to control
size. The bush actually grows larger and becomes more difficult to bring
back to size without being ruined. The exception is hedge-type bushes.
If neglected, many bushes
get too big and dense.
While the foliage might
look OK this year, next
year it just might be too
big to prune back without
butchering it. Instead, it's
better to control size and
shape by selectively pruning
out a few entire
branches each year. Cut
them at a larger branch or
the trunk. This also opens
the plant to light and
encourages healthy growth
from the interior.
Unlike cane-type bushes,
evergreens and other “nonsucker–
type” grow from
their existing stems. They
develop a more permanent
branch framework and usually
need less pruning. If
your landscaping was well
planned, these bushes, especially
evergreens, will grow
to fit their spot with relatively
little help. They'll need
only a light annual pruning
to remove dead branches and
to control size and shape.
Cut or saw branches at the collar— just above where the branch joins the main trunk.
The tree will seal off and heal a properly cut collar.
The branch collar is the bark swell that encircles the
branch. If left intact, this collar will soon grow over
and cover the wound. Don't leave stubs. They'll rot
and might become diseased.
It can be done, but it's easier to pull out an overgrown
bush and plant one that will mature at a size that better
fits the space.
Have the necessary tools for this DIY project lined up before you start—you’ll save time and frustration.
You'll need pruning shears, loppers for thick branches, and work gloves.
Avoid last-minute shopping trips by having all your materials ready ahead of time. Here's a list.
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