Basic Pruning Tips for Healthier Gardens

by Teresa O'Connor

Pruning is often misunderstood, but this process is important to the health and growth of your garden plants.

pruning perennials

When you prune (or remove) parts of your plants properly, you actually help stimulate the plant growth, improve the plant's vigor, create a nicer plant shape and encourage the plant's flowering and fruit-bearing abilities.

Here is a mini pruning guide with some tips that have helped me in the garden. You'll find many more free pruning resources at the end of this article.

When Should You Prune?

It depends on what you are pruning and your growing area, of course, but here are some good guidelines that have helped me:

  • Late-winter/early spring is typically the time to prune evergreens; fruit trees; dormant deciduous shrubs and trees; and summer-flowering shrubs and perennials, before they leaf out.
  • Spring-blooming plants, such as lilacs or forsythia, should be pruned after they havebloomed.
  • Dead or diseased wood can be removed at any time.
  • Deadheading of flowers can be done at any time too.
  • Roses are often pruned when the forsythia blooms in northern climates, around late-March to early-April. Roses that bloom only once a year should be pruned after they have flowered.
  • In cold climates, avoid pruning evergreens, roses and deciduous shrubs in late summer. This pruning may stimulate a flush of late-season growth, which could die if temperatures drop suddenly in fall.
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What Tool Should You Use?

Using the right pruner for the job will make everything easier – especially when you have a lot of garden work to do. Here are some quick tips to consider:

  • Hand pruners cut 1 inch diameters or smaller
  • Loppers cut 1 to 2 inches in diameter
  • Pruning saws are ideal for branches 2 inches or larger
  • Hedge shears are used for cutting hedges
  • Grass shears cut long grass
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Anvil or Bypass Loppers?

When should you use an anvil or bypass loppers? It's best to use anvil loppers when pruning dry or dead branches, such as I'm doing in the above photo. Use your bypass loppers for cutting living or green branches.

Anvil loppers are heavy-duty tools that can cut thick branches easily. But their blades tend to crush the stem, so they are used mainly for pruning dead material or thinning brush. They are also used for preliminary cuts, before a closer, more precise cut is made.

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The Fiskars® PowerGear®Super Pruner (shown above) worked like a dream on this 'Karl Forester' grass, which needed a short haircut in late-winter. But if the foliage had been green and living, I would have used my bypass lopper.

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This climbing rose had several living stems that needed to be thinned out in spring. So, I wanted to use a bypass pruner. Normally, I would have used my hand pruners, but the longer handle on the Fiskars® PowerGear® Lopper helped me prune this stem more easily and effectively in an awkward spot.

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The PowerGear® pruners and loppers are so easy to use they received a special commendation from the Arthritis Foundation. That comes in handy when you have lots of pruning work – as I did. On big chores, you'll find that it really pays to have tools that are lightweight, powerful and ergonomically designed to reduce muscle pain.

Transporting old branches and leaf debris is much easier in my Fiskars® HardShell® Bottom Kangaroo® Garden Bag. When open, it carries 30 gallons worth of yard waste. When closed, it folds to a space-saving 3 ½ inches that fits easily in the garden shed. During the busy clean-up seasons, this bag really gets a workout in my garden – and so do I.

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Don't Spread Disease!

I can't stress enough the importance of keeping pruners and loppers clean. Otherwise, you could accidentally spread diseases all over your garden. Whenever you arepruning diseased plants, such as these roses, always wipe your pruners or loppers with alcohol after each cut. This will disinfect the blade, and mitigate the chances of spreading the pathogens further.

Some experts recommend using a diluted water-bleach mix, but that can be inconvenient. First off, a drop of bleach can ruin your clothing. Frequent use of bleach also can corrode the tool's metal. And bleach is very toxic to plants, so any residue could kill your plants. For these reasons, Washington State University Extension Service is now recommending against using bleach to clean tools. They recommend disinfecting pruning tools, with alcohol and household cleaners like Lysol.

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Want to learn more about pruning?

You havecome to the right place. You will find lots of expert pruning information on this Fiskars website. Don't miss Pruning Tips & Tool Care. Where you can learn everything from how to prune correctly and select the right tool to maintenance tips.

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