Pruning Planning for 2021

Pruning is like a lot of other things in life – it needs to be planned beforehand, you should do it only when needed, not too much at a time, and the right way.  I guess the activity that comes to mind the most is eating.  People need to eat to maintain a healthy body, 3 times a day, not all day long and with proteins, carbohydrates, fats and nutrients in mind.  For more information on healthy eating, see

Here are some basic tenets of pruning, especially for trees and shrubs:

*Prune to remove dead, diseased and damaged limbs and to maintain a proper shape.

*Do not prune to keep a plant short.  For example, if a shrub grows to 9 feet by 7 feet, do not try to keep it at a 3 foot height and width.

*Likewise, avoid topping a tree.  Proper plant selection with size and shape in mind reduces the need for continual and damaging pruning.

*Hedges should be pruned so that they are smaller at the top than at the bottom.  This allows for sunlight to be cast evenly on the whole plant, rather than the top acting as an awning and shading out the bottom foliage.

*When to Prune – This is the most commonly asked question that we receive.  In short:

-Spring flowering shrubs – prune soon after they flower in April or May.

-Summer flowering shrubs – prune soon after the new growth emerges in April.

-Evergreen hedges – prune after the first flush of growth emerges in early summer.

-Broadleaf and evergreen trees – prune in April, May to encourage pruning wound closure.

*How to Prune – This is the most commonly misunderstood question we receive.  In short:

-Rejuvenation pruning – cut off all stems at the ground level in April or May.  This is especially good for overgrown or neglected plants.  Plants that can be pruned this way include lilac, weigela, mockorange, privet, spirea, forsythia, dogwood, viburnum, honeysuckle, cotoneaster and deutzia.

-Renewal pruning – Each year, remove a third of the stems at the ground level to maintain plant health, encourage flowering/vigorous foliage and reduce pest problems. Plants that can be pruned this way include the ones above for rejuvenation pruning.

-Hire an ISA or NAA Certified arborist for trees in the landscape.  These professionals have the equipment, skills, training and experience to prune a tree correctly and safely. 

John Fech
Horticulture Extension Educator at Nebraska Extension
John Fech is a horticulturist with the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and certified arborist with the International Society of Arboriculture. The author of 2 books and over 200 popular and trade journal articles, he focuses his time on teaching effective landscape maintenance techniques, water conservation, diagnosing turf and ornamental problems and encouraging effective bilingual communication in the green industry. He works extensively with the media to extend the message of landscape sustainability, making over 100 television and radio appearances each year.
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