Kada’s Brief Guide to Pruning

Brief Guide to Pruning

My Advice on Pruning

The experienced gardener understands the steps involved with growing healthy vegetables, beautiful blooms, colorful shrubs, productive fruit trees and ornamental shade trees. If your gardening experience has not yet reached this point of knowledge, don’t worry.

Learning from experience is the best way to retain these skills. Watering, fertilizing, harvesting are all important parts of this learning experience. Pruning is a necessary skill for the home grower.

Some are intimidated by the thought of cutting their valuable specimens, fearing permanent damage. However, there is a need to prune in many situations. It is unlikely that the wrong cut will be a disaster for the plant. Learn the how-tos of pruning, don’t be intimidated, and watch for the rewards of learning to make the perfect cut.

Reasons for Pruning

Pruning resolves a range of issues with our plants, shrubs, and trees. We prune for the appearance of the plant and managing growth, such as retaining the shape of a vase shaped shrub or training a tree to only have one trunk. We prune for the health of our plants, such as removing dead, crossing or damaged limbs to prevent the spread of disease and to promote air circulation throughout the branches.

The primary methods of pruning are pinching, heading, thinning, and shearing. Deadheading is another simple pruning process. Begin with the basics before you move on to more complicated cuts. Some of the cuts are interchangeable.


We pinch our annual flowers to encourage blooms over the whole plant and to encourage a bushy, compact plant. Pinching is used to break apical dominance, the tendency of the plant to grow upward. This pruning technique prevents leggy plants. Pinch top growth and spindly side growth above a set of leaves.

Pinching is a useful technique for removing marble-sized fruits from fruit trees that might otherwise overbear, causing small fruit or broken limbs. Other methods, such as thinning are used to remove small fruit. In this case, thinning is the act of what you’re doing and not necessarily the cut. Pinch your plant with fingernails, fingers or for a cleaner cut, use small pruners or scissors.

Pinch annual and perennial flowers and vegetable plants. We often remove damaged leaves for health or flower buds to reduce fruit growth. It is a handy way of working the plant in that no tool is needed and you can quickly take care of the change you want and move on with what you were doing.

Thinning Cuts

Use thinning cuts to open up the inside of the tree or shrub without changing the basic shape. These reductions allow for better air circulation. Thinning cuts open the canopy of a tree and allow the sun to reach inner branches, preventing browning in the center. Lack of sunlight creates this problem, often seen inside evergreen bushes and trees. Thinning cuts help reduce snow pile-up in the tree in winter that sometimes breaks branches.

Thinning tree branches removes the limbs to the point of origin, whether that is another branch or the tree trunk. It is also important to remove some tree limbs for safety, particularly those limbs that are just hanging, damaged or diseased and may easily blow off in a strong wind or storm. Those new to pruning, or those that should not be on ladders, should consider hiring a professional for this type of work.

Heading Back

This technique, called heading or heading back is used to remove weak growth. Heading is basically when one removes an end portion of an under-developed branch or stem, allowing stronger growth below it to control the plant. Heading cuts are made as far down the stem as it takes to get to a strong developing node. Sometimes the entire branch must be removed. Other pruning cuts are used in combination with heading cuts.

Take care when using this cut on shrubs and trees, as new growth will eventually grow from this area. Make sure the stem or limb can handle the weight or that you’re willing to do more removal.Tools for the heading cut are the same as for thinning.


We’ve all seen a hedge, trimmed into a near perfect form, often flat on top and on the sides. This was likely done by the pruning method of shearing, a classic combination of two pruning cuts used on the same specimen. Heading and thinning are both used to shear a hedge into shape snd keep it that way.


A discussion of basic pruning cuts should mention the method of deadheading. While deadheading is rarely a cut, it is important that you are familiar with the term and know how to use it. Deadheading means to break off spent blooms from a plant so that more will appear.

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