Pruning is a necessary part of maintaining the health of a landscape. And though it does take some practice and knowledge on the subject, it really isn’t all that difficult. Read on for a crash course in the art and science of pruning. 

Why prune? We need to prune fruit trees in order to create a shapely canopy, increase air flow, create strong branches, and increase fruit quality or size. We prune ornamental trees and shrubs to create and maintain a desirable shape, create strong branches, and to invigorate and create dense growth. 

When to prune? Pruning can be done anytime to remove dead or dying wood. But most pruning is done in late winter when the tree or shrub is completely dormant. (Late January and throughout February, before buds break.) An exception to this is flowering trees or shrubs that flower in spring on wood formed the previous year. These should only be pruned after their spring flowers have faded, otherwise you will cut off next year’s flowers. Assess your tree. Does it appear healthy? Does it have a nice shape and plenty of sunlight within the canopy? Never prune more than 1/3 of the living canopy per year. 

Let’s move on to the C’s and D’s of pruning. Remove Crossing, Crowding or Competing branches. Crossing branches tend to rub on each other and create wounds where potential pathogens can enter. Crowding small branches block light and air circulation, creating a situation where fungus and other nasty things can grow. Competing branches sap the energy from each other and the fruits will be smaller. 

Removing the competitors will allow the others to grow stronger and have larger fruits. 

Remove Dead, Diseased, or Dying branches. Removing deadwood improves the tree’s aesthetic value by correcting its overall shape and balance. Deadwood can also prevent a tree from growing properly. If deadwood is not removed, it can prevent sunlight from reaching within the canopy, and the tree may not be able to grow evenly. Removing dying or diseased wood helps create more attractive trees and shrubs. It also prevents disease from spreading to other trees and plants. Trim so that you maintain a 45-degree angle between limbs for the strongest tree. 

Don’t remove fruiting spurs. To the inexperienced grower, fruiting spurs can look like a diseased swelling of a branch on a fruit tree, but these rather ugly, swollen areas at the tips of branches or along the branch are really where the flowers and ultimately fruits will form. 

I heard about someone who thought these swollen areas were diseased wood and cut them all off! Of course, they had no fruit that year. 

Make cuts cleanly and not too close to the branch collar. Leave a small stub in order for the tree to heal its wound. If you cut into a branch collar, you are leaving open wounds and an invitation to passing bacteria to get in. When cutting along a limb or branch, make the cut about 1/4 inch above a new, outward facing bud at a slight angle. The tree will branch out at that point. Trim branches that point downward or straight up. 

Remove water sprouts and suckers. Water sprouts are very vigorous branches that originate from a branch or trunk of a tree. They tend to grow straight up. Suckers are vigorous shoots that emerge from the roots at the base of a tree. Both are problematic and should be removed in most cases. Heavy pruning produces water sprouts, as does anything that might cause dieback in your tree, such as extended drought. If removing the suckers and water sprouts reduces by one-third the total living branches, then stop there or you can potentially damage your tree. You can work on the canopy shape the following year. 

Alternatively, if you remove all the crowding or competing branches and if that reduces the canopy by one-third, then stop there. Remove the suckers or water sprouts next year. 

Always use sharp bypass hand pruners and loppers for branches that are under 3/4 inches and a small saw for things over 3/4 inches. I like to disinfect my tools between trees to prevent the potential spread of disease. 

Phew, that is a lot to absorb! But if you follow these basic guidelines, you will be okay. As with anything, it takes practice. 

Thanks for reading and Happy New Year! Let’s make 2022 as green as possible. As always feel free to email me at