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Extension: Pruning offers trees, shrubs several benefits
garden tools
Photo David Rangel, Unsplash

Pruning can increase flowering, fruit production, promote healthy new growth, increase sun light and air circulation, and maintain a desired shape and/or size. 

Understanding that each plant in the landscape has its own growth habit and pruning requirements is important. It is necessary to prune trees that are over-grown, crowd other plants, or limits the view from windows. Plants damaged by insects, diseases, or freezing injury generally benefit from corrective pruning. 

On the other hand, improper and/or pruning at the wrong time of year may result in poor plant development and reduction in flowering, and may increase susceptibility to insects, diseases or winter damage.

It is important to learn and understand the three T’s of proper pruning: tools, timing, and technique.  When purchasing tools, shop for quality and durability over price. 

Pruning Time

Flowering ornamentals form their flower buds at different times of year, therefore, pruning times must be adjusted accordingly. 

Many spring-flowering trees such as dogwood and redbud set flower buds in the fall, so pruning during the fall and winter months eliminates or decreases their spring flower capabilities. 

Plants, such as crape myrtle, that typically flower during the summer form flower buds on new growth and can be pruned during the winter with no effect on their flowering.  

As a rule, plants that flower before June 1 should be pruned after they bloom while those that flower after June 1 are considered summer-flowering and can be pruned just prior to spring growth.  

Ornamental plants that are not grown for showy flowers should be pruned during the late winter or early spring. Pruning may be done during the summer, however, avoid pruning 10 weeks or sooner to your areas first hard frost date. 

Pruning late in the season produces tender new growth that may not be sufficiently hardened and venerable to frost damage. 

Certain shade and flowering trees tend to bleed or excrete large amounts of sap from pruning wounds. Among these trees are maple, birch, dogwood, beech, elm, willow, flowering plum, and flowering cherry. Sap excretion from the tree is not harmful, but it is unsightly and may attract stinging insects. To minimize bleeding, prune these trees after the leaves have matured.

Making the Cut

When a branch is cut back to the main trunk, to a lateral branch or to a lateral bud, a higher concentration of hormones in these areas causes the wound to heal rapidly. 

When a stub is left, the distance from the hormonal source increases and the wound heals slower, if it heals at all. Insects and diseases may enter the cut portion of a stub and cause it to die back. Therefore, whether pruning a small twig or a large branch, avoid leaving a stub by always cutting back to a bud, a lateral branch or the main trunk. 

When pruning back to a bud, make the cut at a slight angle just above the bud. This allows moisture to flow readily off the wound. Avoid making the cut at a sharp angle as this produces a larger wound.

Removing Large Tree Branches

Branches larger than 1½ inches in diameter require three separate cuts to prevent trunk bark stripping. 

Make the first cut on the underside of the branch approximately 15 inches away from the trunk. Cut until the branch starts to move in a downward direction and before the saw is bound in the branch. Make the second cut in a downward direction from the top of the branch approximately 17 inches from the main trunk. 

This will cause the limb to split cleanly between the two cuts without tearing the bark.

For more information on pruning or other Horticulture question contact the UGA Extension Office Forsyth County 770 887-2418 or email