Tips to prune plants and hedges

Pruning and trimming trees and shrubs keeps plants healthy and looking their best. Here are the basic tools and tips you need for the job.

Tips to prune plants and hedges

Pruning and trimming tools

  • Hedge shears Resembling oversized scissors, these will snip many small branches at once. Buy shears that feel good in your hands and work easily
  • Loppers For stems up to 2.5 to five centimetres (one to two inches) thick, use loppers, or long-handled shears. The scissor-type loppers make the cleanest, easiest cuts. They are preferable to the blade-and-anvil type, which require more strength to use and also crush as they cut, leaving a ragged wound.
  • Pruning shears Lop off fading flower blossoms with lightweight deadheading shears. For trimming smaller woody branches, use heavy-duty pruning shears.
  • Pruning saw Use these for larger stems and branches. Look for a saw that cuts on both the push and the pull for fastest, easiest cutting. The bow type is the most common. A curved blade is easier to use than a straight one.

Pruning deciduous shrubs

Flowering shrubs should be pruned immediately after flowering. (Shrubs that don't flower should be pruned in late winter.)

  • If the shrub doesn't appear to be overgrown, you probably won't have to prune much. However, if the plant has a poor flower show, you can thin it to promote future flowering.
  • Remove up to one-third of the shrub's branches, carefully selecting them so that you retain the shrub's natural shape.

Pruning a hedge

  • Some hedge shrubs, such as boxwood, can be trimmed to just a couple of feet wide, while more sprawling shrubs, such as hibiscus, will need 2.4 metres (eight feet) or more.
  • Because pruning stimulates new growth, prune evergreen and most deciduous hedges in spring. However, if your hedge produces spring flowers, wait until after they bloom to do any cutting.
  • Hedges do not have to be trimmed into neat, formal rectangles. Many hedges are loose and informal, incorporating a variety of plants.
  • Pruning for any type of hedge starts with removing any dead wood and cutting back any broken or damaged branches.
  • To shape a formal hedge, use hedge shears. Make the hedge narrower on top than on the bottom, so that light can reach the bottom branches, keeping them green and preventing them from dying out.
  • If you have an informal hedge, use shears or loppers to thin it out, trimming old wood to the base of the plant.
  • If you want to control the size of the hedge, selectively prune branches to retain their natural form.
  • Don't cut off the ends of the branches; that will stimulate bushy growth that will shade the interior and create a dead centre.

Avoid severe and unnecessary pruning

Many plants don't need severe pruning. You just have to remove dead or diseased wood and cut off the spindly shoots and suckers from roots and lower branches.

  • But when things get out of control, a good pruning is like a good haircut — it gets rid of the old, dry and excess stuff to make room for a fresh, new, healthy growth. Keep these tips in mind and promote healthy shrub growth with pruning.
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