The Ultimate Guide to Pruning Your Ornamental Plants

Ornamental plants are primarily grown for decorating a garden with their aesthetically pleasing flowers, foliage, and fruits. Pruning is an age-old technique performed to maintain this beauty and promote the healthy growth and longevity of your beloved plants.


Pruning is not just about cutting excessive growth, and improper pruning can do more harm than good. That’s why we are here to share information about proper techniques to give your plants the grooming they deserve.

Why Prune?


Pruning is necessary not only to maintain the beauty of your garden plants but also for the general health of the plant. Besides these, there are a number of other reasons why you should consider pruning:

  • To help trees and shrubs keep balance while maintaining their natural shape
  • Encourage fruit and flower growth by improving air circulation and light reaches all parts of the plant
  • Discourage disease and prevent overcrowding by clearing paths or other areas around the house
  • Display decorative foliage or branches better

Pruning Tools


Pruning is a delicate task, so using the right tools is essential to prevent damage to the plants. There are a wide variety of tools available in the market, which may confuse the buyer.

For beginners, a simple set of tools will be helpful in keeping the yard neat without much effort. As a serious gardener, your pruning set must include two kinds of shears: lopping and hedge. Along with three kinds of pruners: hand, saw, and pole.


Anvil-type Pruner

This is a must-have item in your gardening tool arsenal. It works by squeezing the stem between a sharpened blade and a flat surface. They are useful for making large cuts on branches up to a half-inch diameter. To protect branch tissue, place the blade against the branch to be saved.

Another option is the bypass pruner, which has a scissor-like slicing action, ideal for smooth and precise cuts. However, they make smaller cuts and are more expensive than anvil-type pruners.


Long-handled Pruner or Loppe

These are ideal when the branch diameter is more than ½-1.5 inches thick. They are similar to hand shears but have larger blades with longer handles to increase leverage.

For people with arthritis or general muscle weakness, a good idea is to invest in lighter tools with built-in ratchets so that they do not strain your muscles.


Long-arm Pruner or Pole Pruner

As your garden grows, a pole pruner will be beneficial to reach high branches and tree crowns without needing a ladder. Using this 10-20-foot-long extendable tool bypasses the hazards associated with pruning from a ladder with sharp tools.

They contain bypass shears, which are useful to prune back branches that may compete with central branches.


Pruning Saw

Pruning saws are useful for cutting branches with a diameter greater than 1.5 inches. It differs from carpentry saw in the sense that it contains a narrower blade and coarser teeth, which makes it easier to maneuver and work in tight spaces.


Hedge Shears

Only use hedge shears for trimming hedges and shrubs for a neat appearance. Avoid using hedge shears to cut large branches.

Pruning tools don’t come cheap, so you must take good care of them to increase their longevity. Make a habit of cleaning your tools with alcohol to remove the sap and resin after each use.

Sharpen your tools at the season’s end. Improper sharpening can render your tool useless; loppers, hedge shears, and scissor-action hand shears must be sharpened only on the outside surfaces. Seek professional help if required.

Oil your tools for smooth movement and to prevent binding. Oil blades with household oil and handles with linseed oil. Remember to dry your tool before storing it to prevent rust.

Avoid using blades on bigger branches than it is designed for; otherwise, you will risk springing the blade.

When to Prune


The best time to prune is late spring when the flowers have already bloomed. Other times are also okay except for fall and winter. This is not only applicable to flower plants but also trees, shrubs, and other foliage.

Flowers and Fruits

The blooming time of flowers varies from plant to plant. So, to get the most flowers, plan your pruning according to the particular plant. For more information, reference a gardening encyclopedia or a book on the particular plant.

However, a general rule is that for plants that bloom before May, prune immediately after the bloom fades. If it blooms later, prunes before the start of new spring growth, around late February or early March.


For plants like hollies and boxwoods, the ideal time to prune is from January through mid-summer.

Renewal Pruning

This is primarily done to revive shrubs that become too large or leggy. Here the whole plant is cut until a stump is left.

Non-grafted plants, like hollies and azaleas, should be pruned to within 4-6 inches off the ground, whereas grafted plants, like camellias, are pruned within 14-16 inches.

Avoid pruning junipers to stubs as their buds do not grow on main trunks, which is needed for regrowth. The same applies to boxwood, which are slow growers and respond better to a change of location rather than pruning.

Generally, you should avoid pruning in the fall or early winter as the new growth may not be able to resist the harsh winter, leading to poor growth.

Additionally, trees like maple, willow, and flowering cherry should be pruned after the leaves have matured to minimize unsightly sap excretion from the wound.

For further details about pruning specific plants, check out this page for additional learning.

General Pruning Approach


Planning before getting out your shears is vital to getting what you are aiming for. First, visualize the natural form of the plant, then strategize which type of cut will allow it to grow aesthetically within the available space.

For example, thinning crowded branches or cutting plants to stubs to promote regrowth.

Now, examine your plant from all sides and extract any unwanted sprouts around the base. Then, shear off broken branches and correct any branches that are crossing or rubbing each other or growing inward toward the center.

Types of Pruning Cuts


The two main types of pruning are thinning and heading cuts. Thinning involves cutting selected branches to a lateral branch, a lateral bud, or the main trunk. This improves light penetration and airflow to the interior portion of the shrub, making a neat and attractive plant.

On the contrary, heading cuts remove branch tips back to lateral buds or small side branches and are useful for removing any competing branches that may hamper the growth of the terminal leader branch.

You may perform heading on remaining branches that become leggy after thinning for a neat finish.

Making the Proper Cut


In case of heading or cutting a branch, make a clean cut without leaving a stub; otherwise, the concentration of hormones in these areas will encourage rapid wound healing. You can prevent a stub by cutting back to a bud or lateral branch.

For large limbs from trees, avoid damaging the tree by using a three-cut or jump cut. First, partially cut a few inches away from the trunk from the underside. Second, make a similar cut a few inches away from the first cut on the upper side.

Last, cut to the branch collar (where the branch joins the tree) to avoid a stub. This will prevent bark stripping from the weight of the falling limb.



Handling sharp tools always poses some risk of injury. Minimize any accidents by assessing any hazards before you start work. Remember to wear safety glasses, gloves, and a hard hat for personal protection.

Any pruning near utility lines is best left to professionals.


Pruning is vital for healthy plant growth and to maintain the beauty of your garden. With a few tips and the right tools, a neglected backyard with overgrowth can become the sight of your neighborhood.

So, clear your Sunday morning schedule and get your pruning gear ready to create a garden that will leave the neighbors in awe.

About the Author Laura Bennett

Hello, I’m Laura Bennett. I love nature especially when it comes to flowers and different kinds of plants. I started a very small garden behind my house and I named it Humid Garden. So, I created this blog to provide aspiring and inspiring thoughts about gardening for gardeners and anyone who has the intention of keeping a garden.

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