Pruning tips and techniques


Here are just a few plants you can work on during the late winter and early spring. You have to approach each plant with a different pruning technique. The best shape for growth on a fruit tree will be medium to short height with mostly horizontal branches. Grasses should be thick and some tall, some short. Butterfly bush looks best when it is thick and full of flowers and cotoneaster, low and dense.

A few to prune

Some plants will flourish with some trimming. Mums need to be pruned in July to stay bushy and full of blooms. But some trees are grown for their fruit or berries. They can be left alone for years. Before you start chopping away, make sure your tools are sharp. Always remove any broken or sick branches first and clean the blades before going to the next cut if you suspect disease problems.

Calluna has long individual spikes covered in small flowers. Since you want to encourage it to flower from the ground up, you need to nip off the ends. They can become bare in the center if you don't keep the plant stimulated. Use your pruning shears to cut off old flowers. Cut off one third or a half of the plant every five years to keep it looking good.

Trumpet Vine or Campsis is a vigorous climber. This aggressive vine can travel all over the garden and take over if you don't keep it contained. In the late winter to early spring, your loppers and pruners can clean up its snarled shape. Create a framework with one long leader, then keep the laterals short. Cut about two-thirds of the vines away. Keep laterals short, leaving only two or three buds on each lateral to grow in the spring. If it has really gotten long and leggy, cut it down about a foot off the ground and train the new shoot into place and snip the stragglers.

Shape that huge clematis that climbed up the side of the house or on that lamp post last summer. You will get better flowers if you prune your clematis. Cut every stem back about ten inches to a pair of healthy buds. Cut a few stems 18 inches back and they will flower later in the season. If they have been neglected for years, cut them back six inches from the ground to a pair of strong buds.

Prune them now to keep them looking beautiful this spring. Many times, you see a clematis vine with all of its flowers up high and nothing but stems below. Keep them short when they are just a year or two old. This will help them branch out instead of up.

Branch anatomy

For a natural shapely guide, just look at the buds. The one at the end of the branch is called the terminal bud or the apical bud. It is where most of the growth chemicals are working hard to produce a blossom. The side buds are called laterals or auxiliary buds. Some grow directly opposite each other on the branch and other plants will produce alternating buds. Look for this bud. It points in the direction the leaf, flower or branch will grow. If you want that bud to grow in the direction it is pointing, leave it. If it will grow in the wrong direction, clip it off.

Remove the terminal bud on the end of the branch and it will cause the plant to spread instead of get longer. This is good if your bush is looking thin. If you are looking for length for a trellis or pergola, nip off the lateral buds go give your plant some yardage. If your plant has opposite buds and needs some shaping, make a straight cut about an inch above a healthy set of buds. If it is an alternate budding plant, make a diagonal cut about an inch above a bud at the same angle.


You will have to fight the tree canopy for some plants instead of pruning them in their sparse winter shape. Some trees like Birch, poplar, walnut, buckeye, horse chestnut and maple will be healthier if they are pruned in the summer when the weather is drier. Some trees like dogwood and crabapple are very susceptible to anthracnose and fire blight. Pruning them during a wet spring will cause some of those problems to spread.

I'll have more pruning chores for you next week.

Contact Kelly Heidbreder at