Safe Pruning Practices

During the dormant season, December through March, pending temperatures, is the ideal time to grab the lopper and pruning shears, and tackle the job of pruning.  While it’s easy to allow trees and shrubs to follow a natural course of growth, trimming obstructive branches or dead matter has a beneficial purpose—health!  With the following suggestions, pruning your trees, shrubs, berry bushes, and vines will promote an improved shape, structure, and help them thrive!


Depending on the kind of plant, gardeners will grab hold of deadened leaves or flowers and cut to produce the next crop of flowers.  This task is essential and occurs throughout the growing season. Surprisingly, woody plants need similar attention and pruning! 

Assess the Trunk

Congratulations, if your trees have mulch around the base!  It’s not an easy task; yet, the removal of grasses and weeds ensures the tree is not competing with them for nutrients. Inspect the bottom of the trunk for feasting insects.  And, look at the leaves for spots, insect larva, or brown leaves. These may be a more significant problem.

Remove Suckers

The extended shoots, termed suckers, are vigorous stems that consume nutrients.  Cut all from the base to the top of the trunk.  A pruning sealer or tape is not necessary to cover the wounds. Trees can heal themselves.  After removing limbs, the softwood will encourage new growth, which you can control.

Remove Branches

Trees can appear in all shapes.  Similar to fruit trees, the goal is to identify the main central leader and remove branches that vie for the lead.  Cut using a slight angle to prevent water from remaining and developing either an infection or rot.

  • Immediately eliminate dead or damaged limbs.
  • Think about the tree in maturity. What shape would you like it to take; therefore, remove branches growing inches apart, at odd angles, or touching other main limbs.
  • If you have two branches at the same level, but one is longer, you can safely cut at the midpoint to encourage a balance.

Pruning Fruit Trees

If you desire a tree that bears fruit, you will need to train your tree to form a balanced three-tiered branch system.  As the method implies, three main branches will form above the trunk, at mid-level, and near the top.

  • On horizontal branches, remove those pointing downwards.
  • To encourage straight linear branches, fill a small plastic cup with concrete and a hook. Then hook the cup to the branch. Some people use sticks or clothespins to foster the same result.

Pruning Evergreen Shrubs

Not all evergreen shrubs are alike.  Holly and arborvitae, for instance, would benefit from a light pruning in the early spring to foster a thicker growth.  It is wise not to cut back to the bare wood.  Cutting dead or diseased branches will improve air circulation and prevent decay.  When considering pruning other types of shrubs, please research first.

Pruning Blueberry Bushes

Every homeowner wants a tall fruit bush with large, plump berries.  The first step is to remove the oldest canes, recognizable by their thick wooden covering.  As canes age, the branches continue to form unproductive small branches, which result in crowding.  Secondly, prune oddly-angled branches, weak shoots, or crossovers to allow open spaces for growth.

Pruning Vines

Once vines develop adequate root systems, the goal of maintaining a vigorous, healthy climber involves removing any dead, damaged, diseased, or unproductive stems.

  • In a dormant season, gardeners can assess the structure to determine whether it can support the vine, and perhaps improve the trellis.
  • Eliminate the vines growing over or away from the structure, or strangling other plants.


In your effort to foster new growth, the spring will offer a welcome to helpers—pollinators.  From butterflies to hummingbirds, birds, bees, and bats, too, their search for pollen will boost the size of your potential fruit in addition to your removing limbs and branches!


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