How to prune trees and shrubs |

How to prune trees and shrubs

Special to the Daily/CSU Extension

For some, the mention of pruning a plant or tree incites nervousness; once a branch is cut off, you can’t put it back on.

Basically, pruning promotes plant health by removing dead or dying branches damaged by disease, insects, storms, animals or other injuries. You also want to prune branches that hit or rub each other.

Another reason to prune is to maintain the plant for its intended purpose within your yard or landscape. Pruning, when done correctly, will rejuvenate plants, will train plants to grow the way you want, encourages flowers and fruit to grow, and gives shape to hedges and trees and improves their appearance.

The best time to prune is when the plant is dormant. For the high country of the Rocky Mountains, plants are generally dormant from late September or early October through the end of May or early June. Another indicator of a plant’s dormant period is when aspen trees lose their leaves in the fall and before they bud out again in the spring. This timeline applies to pruning live branches. You can prune dead, diseased or damaged parts of a plant anytime.

Before pruning, make sure you have the right tools and that these tools are in good working condition. Most hand-held pruners can cut up to a 3/4″ diameter branch. For larger branches, use a hand-held saw or long handled loppers. To prevent the spread of disease when cutting, get in the habit of sterilizing your saw or pruners between each cut. Spraying a solution of 50 percent isopropyl alcohol and 50 percent water on the blades is enough to keep any diseases at bay.

For shrubs, prune at least every two to three years; more often if you’re looking to shape the shrub to fit it into your landscape. If you have a flowering shrub, pruning will also boost the flowering. You can remove up to 30 percent of the oldest stems every two to three years during the dormant period to help renew the plant, however; don’t remove too many branches because the shrub will fall over without the support of strong stems.

For trees, hand pruners work well for the smaller branches. For larger branches, use either a limb lopper (a pruner with long handles and a larger blade) or a saw. If the branch is high up in the tree, consider using a pole saw or talking to a professional. When pruning a larger branch, cut into the underside of the branch a few inches from the trunk first to avoid peeling off the bark down the trunk of the tree. Make another cut at least two inches above the undercut and cut all the way through the branch. Remove the remaining stub making sure to only cut to the branch collar and not flush with the trunk. This collar ridge will eventually heal around the cut branch. Leaving this collar ensures the tree will heal properly.

Other helpful information on pruning trees and shrubs can be found on the CSU extension website at This website was used to put this article together.

This article was written by Peter Alexander of Neils Lunceford Landscape Design/Build ( Peter can be reached at (970) 468-0340, or at

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