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Pruning Basics


Why is pruning important?

There are many reasons for pruning a tree, shrub or other plant: to train or direct growth, control size and shape, improve health, increase landscape effect, improve growth or even for safety reasons. Selecting the right pruner for the job is important for the health of the plant and the comfort and safety of the user. Read about the right tools for pruning, when you should prune and more.

Do's and Don'ts of Pruning

Do's Don'ts
  • Make one cut to remove large limbs.
  • Underestimate the importance of pruning for your plant's health and apperance
  • Forget the proper place and angle to make your cuts when you prune

When Should You Prune?

The best time to prune varies with each plant species. Plants that flower during the spring normally are pruned after they bloom. If you were to prune before bloom you would remove the flower buds. Summer blooming plants generally are pruned during the winter when they are dormant. Pruning should not be done in the late summer or fall because the re-growth makes them more susceptible to damage from the cold.
If the plants are not being grown for their flowers, the best time to prune may be in the winter dormant period. Removal of dead, diseased or damaged branches should be done as soon as possible, no matter what time of year. Pruning should be done year-round as needed.

Types of Blades

Hand pruners and loppers are available with either bypass or anvil blades.

Bypass Pruners and Loppers
Bypass blades are sharpened, curved, and overlap, similar to scissor blades. Bypass blades are ideally used for new green growth.

Anvil Pruner
Anvil blades have a straight upper blade that cuts against a broad, flat blade. Anvil blades are most efficient for dry, hard and old growth.

Cut-and-Hold Pruner
Cut-and-hold pruners have bypass blades with attachments that pinch the clipping, holding it in place as long as the blades are held closed. Cut-and-hold blades are ideal for trimming hard-to-reach areas where you don't want the clipping to fall into the tree or brush.
See the difference in pruners.

What is the proper cut?

For smaller branches: Select the branch to be pruned and cut it back to ½" above an outer bud or to the collar area of a branch about half the size of the main branch that connects a 45° angle. Your cuts should be slanted upward at about 45° to prevent water from collecting in the cut.
All cuts should be clean and smooth without leaving stubs or removing bark. In most cases, you should cut back each stem to a bud or branch. Do not make the cut too close or too far away because most new growth will come from this area.
For larger branches: Use a three-part cut. Make the first shallow cut from below, about 6–12" out from the trunk. Make the second cut from above, about 3 inches beyond the first cut, down the branch or toward the tip, until the branch falls away. This will leave a short limb on the trunk. Cut the remaining limb at a 45° angle so the bark collar remains intact.
Picking the right tool for the job will mean less work for you and ensures that the plant will heal more quickly. The following is a list of different types of tools and their uses:
Hand Pruners
Hand pruners make small cuts typically no larger than 1" dia. Choose from two types: bypass pruners and anvil pruners. Choose bypass pruners for cutting live or green wood. Bypass pruners with sap grooves will help keep blades from sticking. Choose anvil pruners for cutting dry or dead wood. View all hand prunners.

Corona® Basic Commercial-grade Pruner
3/4" cut capacity; Economical and can be used right or left handed.

Bahco® Heavy-duty Professional Pruner
3/4" cut capacity; Ergonomic design keeps hand in neutral position.
Fruit Pruners & Thinning Shears
Fruit pruners and thinning shears are commonly used for cutting flowers or harvesting grapes. They have needlenose blades that are great for making small cuts in tight spaces.

Corona Thinning Shear
Use with right or left hand, and blades can be sharpened.

ARS Curved-blade Fruit Pruner
Short, curved blade helps prevent damage to fruit.
Hedge Shears
Hedge Shears have long, straight blade. They are great for cutting soft, young growth on bushes and shrubs. Use large hedge shears with partially serrated blades for trimming shrubs with larger twigs. Use hedge shears with narrow, smooth blades for topiaries and making clean cuts on softer growth. NOTE: Hedge shears should never be used in place of hand pruners or loppers.

Bahco Professional Hedge Shears
Bottom notches for cutting larger twigs.

ARS HS-K900Z Telescopic Hedge Shear
Telescoping handles for reaching deeper shrubs—perfect for Christmas trees.
Loppers have long handles and are used to make larger cuts up to 3" dia. or in hard-to-reach areas. Models with ratcheting or cam-assisted cutting mechanisms can also make cutting easier. Choose bypass loppers for cutting live or green wood. Choose anvil loppers to cut dry or dead wood. Learn more about anvil vs bypass pruners.

Hickok Bypass Tree Loppers
2" cut capacity; up to 30% lighter than similar loppers.

EZ Kut Ratcheting Lopper with Telescoping Handles
3" cut capacity; ratcheting cut and telescoping handles.
Long-Reach Pruners
Long-reach pruners are perfect for pruning hard-to-reach plants or trees without the use of a ladder. Choose bypass blades for general pruning. Choose super trimmer blades for shearing and shaping. Models with cut-and-hold blades hold onto whatever is being cut and are good for harvesting fruit or gathering samples.

ARS Aluminum Telescoping Bypass Pruning Shears
1/2" cut capacity; pivoting head and telescopes 4–7' or 6–10'.

ARS Heavy-Duty Long-Reach Pruners
3/4" cut capacity; stronger inner rod with fixed lengths of 4', 6' or 7'.
Pruning Saws
Pruning saws cut on the pull stroke and are used to cut branches that are too large to be cut with hand pruners or loppers. Models with curved blades cut faster, but models with straight blades are more precise and easier to control. Straight blades also make it easier to make straight cuts for felling larger branches.
Folding Pruning Saws
Folding pruning saws typically have shorter blades that fold into the handle for easy storage and transport, protecting the blade and the user.

Bahco 7 1/2" Folding Pruning Saw
Aggressive JS tooth design for clean, non-clogging cuts in green wood.

Felco 6" Folding Pruning Saw
Tapered blade folds into ergonomic handle.
Fixed Pruning Saws
Fixed pruning saws are typically longer than folding pruning saws and often include scabbards that attach to belts, which protect the blade and keep the tool at your side.

Corona QuickSaw™ Curved Blade Pruning Saw
Cuts up to 20% faster than comparable pruning saws

ARS HeARS Signature Series Pruning Saw
Includes reversible scabbard and Impulse-hardened teeth that stay sharp
Pole Saws
Pole saws are similar to pruning saws, but have long, telescoping or fixed poles for pruning taller trees while standing on the ground

ARS SC-EXW27 Lightweight Telescoping Pole Saw
Telescopes from 6–9' and is super-lightweight—just 2.3 lb!

Wicked Tough Pole Saws
Fold to compact sizes for easy transport and storage.