No matter what you grow in your garden, there will come a time when it will need to be cut back in some way or another, to either remove dead or decaying parts, reshape the plant or to stop it getting out of control. Think of it as haircut, a refurbishment, maybe, that very much encourages new growth, particularly of flowers and fruit. Your plants will be happier for it, as long as your technique and timing are appropriate to the plant in question. Pruning comes into play, however, when the plants you’re looking at are trees, larger shrubs and hedges, and suddenly the job requires more than just a pair of secateurs, so we’ve looked at some of the basics to get you started, but be sure you research your particular variety of plant to avoid causing any damage.

So where do you start? The type of plant you want to prune will determine when you work on it and also, what tools you’ll need. A selection of loppers and saws are great, but if you’re cutting back a small shrub, it’s unlikely they’ll be needed. Trees, however, will demand more in the way of tools, so if you have a range of different trees, hedges and shrubs in your garden, you’ll need a range of different tools:


Gloves – needed for all plants
Head protection – needed for large trees, shrubs & hedges
Ladder – needed for large trees, shrubs & hedges
Long-handled pruning saw – needed for large trees, shrubs & hedges
Loppers – needed for trees
Pruning saw – needed for trees & larger shrubs & hedges
Safety googles – needed for all plants
Secateurs – needed for all plants


Of course, power tools can sometimes do the job, particularly heavier tasks, but they come with their own warnings and a cost! Whatever tools you use, however, keep them sharp to give your plants the best chance to heal once your project is completed.

Damaged, dead and diseased branches and foliage are your starting point, and be sure to clean and disinfect your tools between cuts. If there are any parts that seem to be underperforming, consider removing those too, along with any branches that rub together, as these can create the perfect opportunity for disease.


And then what? Well, if you’re pruning for shape, take a look at your subject from several different angles to assess what needs to go. Remove lower branches if space is an issue, but if your tree is casting too much shadow, thinning its branches will offer more light. As a general rule, unless disease or dead branches are a big issue, never remove more than a fifth of your tree’s canopy during pruning as this can promote too much upright growth – often referred to as watershoots – to counteract the removal, and you’ll be back to where you started.

The best place to saw a branch is just up from the branch collar, the thicker part of the branch where it joins the trunk or another branch, but different sized branches need different approaches. Those that measure less than an inch in diameter can be pruned with secateurs or loppers, should they be slightly out of reach. Cut a ¼in above a bud, a pair of buds or a side shoot for best results; too close, and the bud could die; too far from it, and the potential dieback could spread to healthy parts of the tree. Thicker branches will need a little more preparation, and you should once again cut back to a side shoot so long as it is of a reasonable size, but if none are present, cut back to the trunk or the branch it’s attached to, retaining the collar as before. If they’re particularly large or long, several cuts should be made to avoid any damage to the tree or, indeed, yourself! Firstly, make a small cut in the underside of the branch around 8in from the final cut, and follow it up with a cut on the topside of the branch a further inch away from the trunk; you can then saw through without the risk of tearing. Continue until you’re happy with the tree’s appearance.


Timing is crucial, and your particular trees and shrubs will need to be pruned at the right time of year to prevent loss, so be sure to speak to one of our experts when you make your purchase; there are some general rules, however, that may help. Deciduous trees in the main can be pruned in winter when they’re dormant, but there are several exceptions that are prone to heavy ‘bleeding’ of sap if pruned too late, so researching your particular trees is crucial. Evergreen trees depend on the particular species. April to late August is fine for the majority of conifers, but evergreens like Holly, Laurel or Mimosa should be pruned in spring. Once again, our experts are on-hand to advise you, but some kind of research is crucial before you start.


There are a couple of further considerations, however, that need to be addressed, so be sure to do your homework: If your tree is covered by a Tree Preservation Order (TPO) or is in a Conservation Area, you need to seek advice before you tackle the task, and if birds are nesting in your tree, it’s worth noting that under The Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, it is an offence to damage or destroy the nest of any wild bird while it is in use or being built. If you wait until after the nesting season, you should avoid prosecution, and that’s always preferable! But it’s not just birds that are a cause for concern; bat roosts are also protected. Check your trees and make the necessary enquiries if you notice either in your trees.

Fresh cuts can be left unpainted unless you’re pruning cherry or plum trees, which are susceptible to the spores of silver leaf disease. You may well notice sap bleeding out, but there should be no cause for concern unless it becomes excessive; if that happens, mulching and watering may be necessary to ensure your tree remains healthy.


Hedges need more regular pruning to help them keep their shape and stop them thinning, and it’s necessary from the time they’re planted. If your hedge is relatively small, hand-held hedge shears are all you need, but if it’s well-established, a hedge trimmer might be the way to go. As with all tools, there are many options to confuse, so ask in-store should you need any help deciding. Bear in mind that if your hedge has large leaves, shears or trimmers could leave it looking hacked.


Safety is your primary concern when using a powered hedge trimmer: safety goggles are a must, along with thick gloves, and before you start, be sure to clear a path to enable you to move freely. If you need to prune higher than shoulder height, use a ladder that is stable and up to the job! The cord should be draped over your shoulder to avoid cutting through it, and you should reconsider using the tool at all if the hedge is damp.

Formal hedges need more care, attention and time, and hedge trimmers may be a heavy-handed approach to their often-delicate shapes, and flowering should be considered before starting to prune; pick the wrong time of year, and your hedge may not flower at all.


So, in short, make sure you have the right tools and protection, research your plant or tree and tackle the task at the right time. If you need help with any of that, we’re always here to offer advice. Happy pruning!

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