The Basics of Pruning Your Garden

For amateur gardeners, pruning can be a difficult subject. Nearly all gardeners know what pruning is but the when and how of pruning can be tricky to understand.

If done correctly, this tricky-but-important process can become one of the most satisfying parts of gardening. The results are an abundance of flowers, foliage or fruits - a spectacular garden of envy. But, if it’s done incorrectly, the damage to the plants can be tenfold.

Pruning might appear difficult and complicated but with the right knowledge, you can treat it like any other day-to-day gardening activity. Before you decide to become a pruning master, the first thing you need to do is build up your knowledge about the types and varieties of plants you own. This is because different types of plants require different pruning methods.

So, let’s get down to the basics of how to prune your garden.

So, What Exactly Is Pruning?

Most of us are aware of the snips and the snaps that go into pruning but what is pruning exactly and why do we need to prune our gardens?

To define it simply, pruning is controlling the growth and development of the plant. You can control the growth by pruning your bushes or your plants in a specific and clear-cut pattern. This is done to stop a chemical from reaching the bud, slowing down the growth of the buds behind it.

The endpoint of a shoot or a branch is called a terminal bud and this where the chemical is secreted. By pinching off the terminal bud, the secretion of the chemical is slowed and other buds or branches can spread out or quickly grow. The result is a healthier-looking plant.

There are four ways a bud can form in a plant - whorled, spiraled, opposite or alternate. Each individual species has a different pattern of budding and this is where it gets a bit complicated. To get the best results, you need to pinch or prune according to the type of bud pattern.

Why Should We Prune?

If plants are not regularly pruned, their branches or shoots can grow in a haphazard pattern. Especially in spring, the shoots can grow really fast and with more vigor.

Some people are against pruning. They claim it to be against the natural order or growth pattern of the plant and all the pinching and cutting can truly damage a plant long-term. The cuts can make the plants more vulnerable to diseases and make it harder for the plants to flourish.

The logic behind pruning is that your garden plants should be managed in a controlled environment. It starts with a plan of symmetrical plots, borders, and hedges. Successful planning is crucial as you need to have a rough idea of how much space a plant or bush will take up as it grows. No amount of pruning will help if there isn’t enough space.

The next step is to routinely prune young plants as they heal from cuts very quickly. Routine pruning for four to five years will give the plant a great shape. The best part is that after it matures, it’ll only need occasional pruning to keep it in shape until it gets really old.

When plants reach a certain age, they require annual pruning. This removes any dead or damaged parts that can obstruct the growth of new shoots.

Pruning keeps plants in a firm and youthful shape. It’s hard to cut off damaged and diseased shoots without bruising the healthy parts. Diseased shoots need to be burned to stop it from affecting the other healthy plants. Needless to say, pruning is essential for bringing a plant back to health.

When Is the Best Time to Prune?

The best time to prune is when a plant is dormant. If you’re unsure when each species of plants is dormant, you can consult a nursery or an online forum. The easiest thing to do is to search online but it’s always best to seek expert advice.

For most plants, the dormant season is between late fall and early spring. If you need to stimulate growth in your plants, you should prune them in winter. And, if you wish to slow down the growth, you should prune them in  summer.

The general rule is a bit different for flowering shrubs. If you wish to stimulate a full bloom of flowers in the next spring, you need to prune right after the flowers die.

Keep a good basic gardening book within reach as this will help you find the right information on each species of plant and the correct time to prune.

What Else Should We Keep in Mind?

Now that you know the basics about pruning, it’s time to do some serious research before you start snipping the branches of your beloved plants.

Treat each plant with patience and love. Your time, resources and labor can bring out the best in your plant. Don’t neglect regular gardening tasks like weeding, watering, feeding, supporting and deadheading flowers. A good gardener knows they need to do these tasks daily.

Gardening is not only about watering and feeding your plants. Grooming and taking care of diseases is also very important. If you don’t keep that in mind, the fruits of your labor will go to waste.

There are three things you need to keep in mind for a magnificent garden: remove the dead parts (stems, branches, roots), take meticulous care of the healthy parts and encourage the growth of new shoots or branches. Nurture and care for your plants so they can reach their full potential!


Amelia Robinson is a lover of plants and gardens, as well as an educator on this topic. It’s her goal to make sure that you get the chance to learn what you need to about gardening to succeed with your own home garden at the blog You’re not going to find just a collection of basic articles about gardening here. Instead, she wants to answer the difficult questions for you. She tweets at @robinsonplants

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