How to Prune Your Property
Ask any landscaper and they'll agree: pruning your plants is an essential part of healthy landscaping. Pruning does, however, require a degree of skill. STIHL is here to help. Part of our How-To Series, this article provides tips on how to properly identify plants and prune them to their fullest growing potential.
The purpose of pruning is to:
- Improve flowering, fruit and foliage.
- Remove dead, dying and diseased wood.
- Preserve plant shape and/or restrict growth.
- Address safety concerns (e.g., mowing beneath low-hanging tree branches).
STEP 1: Plant Identification
The first step in proper pruning is correctly classifying your plants. Not all varieties of plants (such as flowering shrubs) can be pruned at the same time of year, so it's important to know what time is best to prune the plants on your property. A good resource for plant identification is the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (http://www.csrees.usda.gov/Extension/). There, you can explore "Horticulture" and "Plant ID" tabs with links to photos. You can also consult with your local nursery.
STEP 2: Plan When to Prune
Once you have identified your plants, it's time to make a plan. Most plants can be lightly pruned throughout the year. By "light," we mean don't remove more than 10 percent of the plant's live foliage. If your goal is to improve flowering, prune according to the plant's blooming cycle. For shrubs that flower in the spring, make your cuts in late spring and early summer; and for summer blooming shrubs, late winter, before the leaves arrive. Remove dying and diseased wood year-round.
STEP 3: Pick up Pruning Hardware
We recommend STIHL hand shears for limbs up to three-quarters of an inch in diameter, depending on plant species and toughness. Two-handled lopping shears are well suited for branches up to one inch in diameter. For limbs with a greater than one-inch spread, we suggest a hand- or pole-pruning saw. Lastly, to clip or sculpt hedges and shrubs, opt for either manually operated or power-driven hedge shears. Note: Remember to wear the proper protective gear: goggles or glasses, gloves, and an approved hardhat to protect against falling debris.
STEP 4: Pruning
Pruning Flowering Shrubs
After selecting the twig or branch you want to cut, prune it back to a lateral bud or larger branch using your pruners or lopping sheers. Your cut should be perpendicular to the growing direction. Remove the shoots around the base of the shrub before the new growth begins in early spring. Make sure your particular plant can withstand this base pruning. If a shrub is aged and large, eliminate one-third of the oldest growth each year. Use a pruning saw or lopping shears to cut back the branches to the base.
We recommend that you leave big branches (those two inches in diameter or greater) to the professionals or a licensed arborist. Limbs and twigs with less than a two-inch diameter are less likely to decay, so stick to these.
When cutting tree branches smaller than two inches in diameter, employ the “three cut” method by following these steps:
- Measure 12-15 inches (about a forearm’s length) from where the branch joins the tree trunk—an area known as the branch collar.
- Using your pruning saw, make an undercut about one-third to halfway through the branch.
- Place your saw blade above the first cut and completely sever the branch.
- Having lessened the limb’s weight, make your final cut at the branch collar. This knobby growth area seals well and fights decay. Note: Don’t treat or paint the wound, as this can promote disease and decay.
Evergreen trees are unique. Pruning doesn’t affect their size and conifer limbs that don’t already have needles won’t grow new ones. New growth comes only from the trees’ growing tips. Branches can be removed at the branch collar, but will result in a permanent bare spot.
Want More Info?
For more information about pruning plants, consult your STIHL product instruction manual.