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Perfect Pruning: Best Practices
for Shrub and Tree Care

home equity articles and tips


Pruning is a preventative horticultural practice that changes the shape of a plant so that it can remain healthy. Pruning can also enhance how your plants look, promote growth, and bring vibrancy back to an old plant. Regular pruning is essential. Here’s how it’s done.

Cut at the Collar

Pruning is not about hastily cutting back branches every which way. Do not just cut half of a branch that you don’t like. If you cut part of a limb the entire branch will probably die, or worse, the plant itself will become infected as the die back moves into healthy wood. Only cut at the collar of a branch. This is the small mound connecting the branch and the trunk.

Choosing Branches

Decide what limbs need to be removed in midwinter or early springtime, before there are leaves on your plants. Resolve to eliminate any dying branches, branches that are rubbing against each other, and branches that are no longer generating flowers or fruits. Of course, it’s perfectly okay to cut some healthy branches too; you can cut the top branches on fruit trees so that they do not become too tall or cut back the growth of a hedge.

You can even prune during the summer after the growing period of the plants. Usually this type of pruning is for slowing down the growth of particular sections, to remove dead limbs that you previously missed, or for correcting weight issues that you may not notice unless the plant is active. However, if you do decide to trim during the active growth seasons, be sure not to prune in the fall. Not only do many fungi spread their spores this time of year, but the pruning wounds tend to heal much less quickly.


Before you prune the branch, you must place an undercut farther up the branch, which is an incision about one fifth of the diameter of the branch placed on the bottom side. After this, place a second incision on the top of the branch near where you placed the undercut. This is to protect the tree as a whole. These two cuts will work together to ensure that when the branch falls the bark will not be torn from the trunk of the tree. Saplings and shrubs obviously won’t need this.

Freeing the Branch

Do not cut a straight line up and down. The cut that you make at the collar should be at a slight angle, about halfway between the angles of the branch and the trunk. If there is a bud nearby cut away from it at an angle so that rain will run in the opposite direction. The cut that you make should be sharp and clean. This method will allow the plant to quickly form a protective callus that will act as a shield against bugs and contagions.

Don’t Overdo It

The process outlined above can be used for crown cleaning, elevating, thinning, and reshaping. It’s always good to consult a professional like those with Arborcare Tree Service in Calgary if in doubt. Remember that as healthy as pruning is, don’t over-prune. Plants are susceptible to shock from pruning too much and can develop ugly water-sprouts.