Pruning 101

May 12th, 2017

The first step to pruning is to think about pruning differently. We prune our landscapes for several different reasons, but the overall task is that humans are simply managing plant growth and encouraging the health of plants.

Why Are You Pruning?

Start out by asking yourself a few questions to determine your pruning goals. This will help you better understand how to approach the plants you want to prune, while establishing the needs of those plants.

Your objectives might be to: 

  • Improve fruit or flower production
  • Promote new, healthy growth
  • Get rid of dead, dying, or diseased plants
  • Remove heavy or unsafe branches that may present a safety risk
  • Control the size of plant
  • Reduce shade for plants under larger plants
  • Increase air circulation within the plant
  • Fix an improper pruning job
  • Encourage plants to grow in a specific direction
  • Help to reduce the frequency for physical pruning

The Tools You Need

People sometimes consider pruning as a tedious, challenging job that may require professional assistance, when really- it’s all about the tools you use. The right set of pruning tools can make your life so much easier, while changing the lives of your plants. There are many different types of pruning tools, each with their own purpose or ability. The ones you use depend on the types of plants you’re trying to prune as well as your goals.

Often times, we think our pruning tools have dulled out, but it could just be that they need some deep cleaning. Use Dawn dish soap and a Brillo pad on your smaller pruning tools, or keep a bucket of water nearby to clean your tools in between cuts so that your pruners are the sharpest ones in the shed.

Hand Pruners

A solid pair of hand pruners is a necessity for every landscape. There are several options, so in talking with one of our experts, they can help make sure your tools are just what you need. Regularly clean your hand pruners to remove the sap that can often buildup on the blades. Whether you’re trimming smaller, flowering plants, shrubs, or tree branches, your hand pruner can be your “go-to” for most pruning.


These tools are used for bigger branches or areas that need a decent amount of pruning. They typically have wooden, metal, or fiberglass handles for comfort and come in a range of styles, size, and price points.

You want to consider the type of cutting blade you’re looking for and comfortable with using when purchasing your pair of loppers. A pair of bypass lopper blades work similarly to a pair of scissors and are what we recommend.  They provide cleaner cuts on live woods, which helps the plant to heal faster.

Hedge Shears

Use these to cut and prune solitary shrubs or hedges! There are several different designs as well as manual or powered versions that exist. The type you use depends on personal preference and functional purpose of the tool. They are great for helping to reduce the size of existing plants and controlling plant growth direction.

Pruning Saw & Pole Pruner

The teeth on a pruning saw are pointed backwards, establishing a more aggressive cut. Use the “lift & pull” method when working with these tools to cleanly cut your woods. Lift the saw above the cut line and then pull towards you on the cut. Pruning saws only cut plants on the pull movement.

Taller pole loppers can be used for plants with a height that is taller than yours. Use caution when using taller tools to prune as branches or leaves could fall in your direction if not cut properly.

General Pruning

After you have identified your pruning objectives and goals, you will know where and how to start pruning.

  • Follow the 30 Percent Rule
    • Leaves are your food factories for the plants. There are some exceptions, but in general- be careful when removing more than 30 percentof your leaves. Doing so could seriously damage the plant and reduce the amount of nutrients your plants receive.
  • Rejuvenation Pruning on Shrubs
    • Some shrubs, like butterfly bush, need to be fully cut to just 6-10” above the ground each year.  Send us a picture of your plant or give us a call for more information on your shrub’s needs.  
  • Tree Pruning
    • Prune the branches you want to cut before they reach 2” in diameter. Any type of pruning creates a wound on the plant and requires that plant to heal itself. When cutting something thicker than 2” diameter, we recommend having a conversation with one of our experts for advice or guidance.
    • Always remove dead, dying, and diseased wood.
    • Eliminate crossing branches. Branches and plants are always moving, which means that branches that overlap and cross are constantly rubbing against each other. This removes their tough, outer layers and reduces their protection from the environment. Prune back any crossing areas to help your plants live a long and happy life.
    • For taller trees, we suggest using a professional tree service every 3-5 years to help you out. For smaller trees, use the 3 cut method.
      • CUT 1: Cut roughly 10 inches away from your established cut line with a 1-2 inch deep cut. Don’t fully cut through the branch as you’ll want this cut to act as a barrier to tearing damage.
      • CUT 2: Fully cut the branch off 4 inches away from your 1 inch cut. This helps take the weight off the tree and makes sure the ending cut line is where you want it to be.
      • CUT 3: Finally, cut at the official cut line.

Time of Year

Pruning is a weekly, year-round activity- maybe except for December and January. This can make sure that things are being taken care of in the season they need to be. Besides, you can’t prune everything all in one day, so you might as well distribute the workload!

Now is an especially great time to start pruning. It’s too early to be busy with lawn work and care, but starting to get warm enough that it is enjoyable to be outside. Get started today!  

Questions? Pruning comments? Let us know! Happy pruning! | 970-226-4924 | 7029 S. College Ave, Fort Collins CO 80525