Pruning - How to cut woody plants properly

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Cut apple tree

The pruning of the shrubs is always a cause for worry and is also the basis for many heated discussions. Always radical - say some and justify that the tree, shrub or bush are already regrowing. Others prefer a more timid approach so as not to unnecessarily burden or weaken the plants. Even experienced and professional gardeners are not always in agreement about which section should be used. As many different opinions exist here as well, some principles are always valid.

Always individual

The one tree grows easily even stronger and more beautiful if it is radically blended. The other woodland recovers only with difficulty - or never again - from such interventions. The absolute majority of coniferous trees, for example, never drives out of old wood again. Anyone who has set the scissors or saw wrong, changes the shape permanently. The result is, for many hobby gardeners, surprisingly, from now on holey tree that needs to be removed sooner rather than later or replaced. But not only the optics can be disturbed. In the case of fruit-bearing woody plants, flowering or yield is reduced at best for a short time due to a wrong mixture. Worst case forever. This is particularly annoying if it is an expensive or already very large plant. Any amount of maintenance, time and money can be wasted here by a few cuts.
Before ever the scissors are set, it is therefore necessary to know the peculiarities of the respective plant species. General statements and instructions are only conditionally possible, as there are too many exceptions to these rules.
Tip: How was that again with the blend with the cherry and what's the name of the tree over there? In order to have to spend only one research effort, all trees and their peculiarities and claims should be noted down in a garden sketch.


Some woody plants can easily or even better without a waste. Only then can they take on their natural form and unfold the full bloom. However, cutting can also be necessary here, for example because the space in the garden is insufficient. In principle, however, it should be checked before each drastic measure whether a blend is actually necessary. Possible and common reasons are:
  • Infested by diseases or pests
  • Wood is too big for the existing area
  • Aging of the crop, waste is used for rejuvenation
  • Risk of breaking branches by wind or snow
  • Fruits do not mature sufficiently
  • artificially created form is sought
Under no circumstances, the cutting should only be done because the left garden neighbor wants to help with good advice and thinks that the wood would need to be trimmed. Unless the tree in question juts far beyond its garden fence. Anyone who wants to be on the safe side, informs himself in any case about the specifics and claims of each plant or attracts a specialist.

Care and maintenance

The maintenance or care cut is probably the most common intervention in woody plants. Also, the Auslichten can be classified here. Removed are:
  • inwardly growing shoots
  • intersecting branches
  • Damaged parts of plants that are kinked, burned, dried up or deformed by diseases and pests
  • weak, feeble and very thin shoots

Cut branch

Depending on the woody species, the care cut can be made throughout the season or should be done only in a small time window.
The purpose is to give the woodland a brighter crown. On the one hand, this makes them less susceptible to breakage, on the other hand, fruits can mature faster and more evenly.


The rejuvenation cut occurs as the plant ages. Obviously, overaging is usually due to the fact that the woodland carries fewer and fewer leaves, flowers and fruits. It generally loses power of growth and shallows. However, these signs can also indicate a wrong location or lack of nutrients. Decisive factor here is the time. So far, the wood has been cultivated without any problems, but has been on the branches for a few years, making aging much more likely. The procedure is as follows:
  1. First, so-called leading drives are selected. Suitable are strong branches and twigs that carry numerous small shoots.
  2. With these as a basic framework, the trees are freed from the competition in the second step. These are almost as thick branches and branches, which, however, experience has shown that only a few leaves and fruit.
  3. Trees are cut almost to the trunk, shrubs and shrubs are cut near the ground.
  4. Inward growing plant parts, intersecting branches and smaller shoots are also removed.
  5. The plant or the treetop should then be thinned and trimmed in its extent.
Tip: In some plants, the rejuvenation cut consists of the radical cutting back of all shoots near the ground. Research is worthwhile here again.


The pruning of the shrub is used to limit the size. It is cut all around, one quarter to one third of each shoot length. If you have little space available, you should keep shrubs small from the beginning, so that the interventions are not too radical.


The best example of eye-catching formations is the Buxbaum. Ball, cone, pyramid - the artificial shaping takes place in several steps and must be maintained by regular interventions. This also applies to hedges. At first, a coarse blending takes place, which creates the basis. This is followed by further fine cuts and densifications. The rough cut is radical, everything else just a gentle intervention, in which new drive ends are trimmed for compaction. Then it is cut all around so that the circumference can increase but the shape is still preserved.
Tip: Use stencils or taut cords and other tools for shaping. The cutting to a good judgment usually starts backwards.


Cherries are cut after harvest, flowering ornamental shrubs after flowering, most fruit trees during the winter, and conifers when the shoot has reached a certain length - so the right time for the blend can vary greatly. In general, the following notes apply:
  • do not cut in blazing sun
  • Do not mix with frost
  • choose covered days
  • Avoid high humidity and rain
Again, it must be found out when which wood is optimally blended.

Shearing tools

Cut apple tree

Whether scissors, knife or saw - all cutting tools must be clean and sharp. Optimal is the disinfection of the blades between the use of each plant.

Wound closure and follow-up

The use of wax as a wound closure is still widespread, but it can do more harm than good. Underneath the airtight seal, germs and parasites often spread unnoticed. It is better to keep the cut surfaces as straight and level as possible and to cut them on dry days. This allows the wound surfaces to close easier and faster. For aftercare, pruning may also include watering and fertilizing the plant well.
Before the pruning is the search - that hobby gardeners can not avoid. Timing, type of cut, tolerability and aftercare vary considerably from species to species. Accordingly, it is important to know the respective claims in advance. Only then can the blending be carried out successfully and in favor of the wood.

Worth knowing soon

Certain trees require a regular cut. Well, that's not the science that it's often portrayed. Prime examples are often flowering roses and flowering ornamental shrubs in late summer. Most other woody plants usually only need a cut from time to time. Many woody plants such as witch hazel, magnolia and laburnum should not be cut at all. A pruning is useful, if you want to promote the flowering and fruiting, shrivel to become grown woody plants, rejuvenate over-aged shrubs radically or form woody hedges.

Timing & cutting thickness

  • The best time to cut during the winter, but only in frost-free weather, from about February.
  • This cut is perfect for all summer bloomers. Spring flowering plants like the forsythia are cut after flowering.
  • Even frost-damaged trees are cut separately, namely only in the spring, if you can see the damage well.
  • In the fall, you only cut to avoid wind damage or snow load damage.

When the average thickness is to be considered: the more you cut back, so that leaves only a few buds, the less, but you get longer and stronger shoots. A slight pruning causes numerous, but shorter shoots.


  • A shoot is cut off about 5 mm above a bud at an angle.
  • The incision should not be made at an angle to keep the wound site as small as possible.
  • The scissors must be sharp, so that the shoots are not crushed. A smooth interface is important.
  • Also, you should not leave a so-called clothes hook (stub), because these fungi and pathogens provides a good attack surface.
  • Above all, a good cut should improve the lighting conditions within a shrub. It can develop better.
  • A Auslichtungsschnitt promotes the emergence of young, ground-level shoots and thus benefits the vitality and drive renewal.
  • First you cut all sick, injured or damaged shoots back to healthy wood.
  • Then you remove all thin, weak shoots. Finally, a few old shoots are cut off or sawed off directly above the ground.
Tip: Wild shoots on grafted plants must be removed early. They are torn off directly at the attachment point or removed with a sharp knife.

Deciduous and coniferous trees

  • It is better not to cut conifers, because otherwise you will interfere with the natural beauty of the plants.
  • If it still has to be, only the shoot tips should be shortened.
  • Yew trees are very cut tolerant, which is why they are often used as hedges. However, they are pretty toxic.
  • Woody hedges are best raised conically, wider at the bottom than at the top. So they stay nice and tight and withstand the snow load in winter.
  • There are two cut dates for deciduous shrubs, once at the end of June (after the bird brood) and then again in the middle until the end of August.
  • It is best to cut coniferous hedges only once, usually in July.

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