Basic Principles of Pruning Woody Plants


Ready by Gary L. Wade and Robert R. Westerfield, Extension Horticulturists

Pruning is among the most vital cultural practices for sustaining woody crops, together with decorative timber and shrubs, fruits and nuts. It includes each artwork and science: artwork in making the pruning cuts correctly, and science in figuring out how and when to prune for optimum advantages.

There are quite a few causes for pruning. Generally you wish to practice or direct the expansion of crops into a selected type or a specified house, like a proper hedge. Or you might wish to prune mature crops to manage their dimension and form, as within the case of fruit timber which might be pruned low to the bottom to assist selecting or hedge crops pruned at a selected peak. For fruiting crops, pruning performs an vital function in enhancing general fruit high quality, primarily by rising gentle penetration into the tree.

Sadly, many individuals method pruning with quite a lot of apprehension. Others view pruning as a chore and provides little forethought to approach as they swiftly do the job. Correct pruning requires a fundamental understanding of how crops reply to varied pruning cuts. The rules and pointers on this publication will provide help to grasp frequent pruning methods.

Shoot Progress and Apical Dominance

Figure 1. Current season's growth.Determine 1. Present season’s progress.

You’ll be able to partly decide the attribute form and dimension of a woody plant and its response to pruning by the plant’s pure sample of shoot progress. When a seed germinates and grows, just one rising level exists, the apex or terminal bud (Fig. 1). When a terminal bud begins rising after being dormant, it leaves a bud scale scar on the department. You should use the scars to find out the age of a limb or tree by counting the scars. As the brand new shoot elongates, constructions referred to as nodes are shaped. A node is the realm on the shoot the place a leaf is hooked up (Fig. 1a). One to a few lateral buds are produced at every of those nodes. Progress of lateral buds is directed by the terminal bud, which produces a hormone referred to as auxin. Auxin strikes downward within the shoot (towards the Earth’s heart) from the shoot apex and inhibits the expansion and growth of lateral buds (Fig. 2). This phenomenon is named apical dominance.

Figure 1a. Close-up of a node.Determine 1a. Shut-up of a node.
Figure 2. Apical dominance and its effects.Determine 2. Apical dominance and its results.


The depth of apical dominance varies from one plant species to a different. Some crops suppress the expansion of their lateral buds till the second rising season; others develop each lateral shoots and terminal buds throughout the first rising season. Apical dominance influences not solely the variety of shoot-forming lateral buds and the lengths of lateral shoots shaped but in addition the angle at which the shoots emerge from the primary limb.

Figure 3. Limb orientation affects apical dominance.Determine 3. Limb orientation impacts apical dominance.

The orientation of a limb or shoot alongside the primary department has a significant affect on progress by its impact on apical dominance (Fig. 3). As a result of auxin strikes downward within the shoot towards the Earth’s heart, apical dominance is strongest in vertical or upright shoots or limbs. In vertical limbs, vigorous shoot progress happens close to the terminal bud with lateral shoots changing into extra sparse with rising distance from the apex. However, orientation of lateral branches at 45° to 60° angles from the vertical or foremost shoot reduces the vigor of shoot progress close to the apex and will increase the quantity and size of laterals alongside the limb farther from the apex. On horizontal limbs, apical dominance is completely misplaced. With out apical dominance to manage their progress, lateral buds on the higher facet of horizontal limbs grow to be vigorous, upright shoots, referred to as water sprouts. As they develop, water sprouts present very sturdy apical dominance. Water sprouts are a standard drawback on the higher floor of flat limbs in fruit timber and are eliminated by pruning.

Basic Responses to Pruning

Pruning is an invigorating course of (Fig. 4). By eradicating the apex, pruning briefly destroys apical dominance and stimulates the expansion of lateral buds into shoots.

Figure 4. Pruning stimulates lateral shoot growth close to the cut.Determine 4. Pruning stimulates lateral shoot progress near the reduce.


Pruning additionally reduces the scale of the above-ground portion of the plant in relation to the basis system (Fig. 5). Because of this, the undisturbed root system providers a smaller variety of shoots and buds. The relative uptake of water and vitamins by the remaining shoots and buds will increase, and a flush of progress (regrowth) happens.

Figure 5. Pruning reduces the top in relation to the root system.Determine 5. Pruning reduces the highest in relation to the basis system.


Usually, the extra extreme the pruning (higher dimension or variety of limbs eliminated), the higher the ensuing regrowth. In essence, the plant is regrowing in an try to revive a steadiness between the highest and the basis system.

Figure 6. Pruning stimulates growth closest to the cut in vertical shoots; fartherDetermine 6. Pruning stimulates progress closest to the reduce in vertical shoots; farther away from cuts in limbs 45° to 60° from vertical.

Pruning usually stimulates regrowth close to the reduce (Fig. 6). Vigorous shoot progress will normally happen inside 6 to eight inches of the pruning reduce. That is notably true for vertical limbs which were pruned (Fig. 6a). Nevertheless, regrowth on limbs having a 45° to 60° angle from the vertical will develop farther away from the reduce (Fig. 6b).

Pruning additionally could not directly stimulate progress of lateral shoots by permitting extra gentle to penetrate the cover of the plant.

Pruning a younger plant will stimulate vigorous shoot progress and can delay the event of flowers and fruit. The size of the delay, after all, will depend upon the species pruned and the severity of the pruning.

Varieties of Pruning Cuts

Figure 7. Heading removes a part of a shoot or limb.Determine 7a. Heading removes part of a shoot or limb.

There are two fundamental kinds of pruning cuts, heading and thinning (Fig. 7). Every leads to a special progress response and has particular makes use of.

Heading removes the terminal portion of shoots or limbs (Fig. 7a). By eradicating apical dominance, heading stimulates regrowth close to the reduce. It is also essentially the most invigorating sort of pruning reduce, leading to thick compact progress and a lack of pure type, as within the case of a formally pruned hedge. Generally decorative shrubs alongside a basis overgrow their planting house and are rejuvenated by heading to inside 12 inches of floor stage. Many broadleaf shrubs comparable to burford holly, ligustrum, abelia and crape myrtle tolerate this sort of pruning. Different kinds of heading are topping, dehorning, hedging and clipping.

Figure 7a. Thinning removes the entire shoot or limb.Determine 7b. Thinning removes your complete shoot or limb.

Thinning, then again, removes a complete shoot or limb to its level of origin from the primary department or lateral (Fig. 7b). Some shoot ideas are left undistributed, so apical dominance is maintained. Because of this, new progress happens on the undisturbed shoot ideas whereas lateral bud growth and regrowth is suppressed.

Thinning is usually the least invigorating sort of pruning reduce and supplies a extra pure progress type of crops. Necessary in upkeep pruning, thinning cuts are used to shorten limbs, to enhance gentle penetration into crops and to direct the expansion of shoots or limbs.

Drop-crotching, a type of thinning used to cut back the scale of huge timber, includes the elimination of a foremost department (or chief) by slicing it again to a big, lateral department (Fig. 8a). The reduce by means of the primary department is made parallel to the angle of the remaining lateral. When eradicating massive tree limbs, a collection of three cuts are beneficial to be able to keep away from tearing the bark alongside the primary truck and severely wounding the tree (Fig. 8b). One undesirable type of thinning is the bench reduce, the place a vigorous upright limb is thinned to horizontal limb (Fig. 9).

Figure 8. Types of thinning cuts: (a) drop crotching and (b) limb removal.Determine 8. Varieties of thinning cuts: (a) drop crotching and (b) limb elimination.
Figure 9. Compare branch cut (left) with correct method (right).Determine 9. Evaluate department reduce (left) with appropriate technique (proper).


Vigorous, upright shoot progress, referred to as water sprouts, usually consequence from the “bench” space due to the absence of apical dominance within the horizontal limb. Such regrowth is weak and infrequently leads to an undesirable umbrella-shaped plant. The proper technique is to make the thinning cuts to limbs which might be related in angle to the limb being eliminated however not higher than 45° to 60° from vertical.

Figure 10. Wide crotches (left) are stronger than weak, narrow crotches (right).Determine 10. Extensive crotches (left) are stronger than weak, slim crotches (proper).

Shoots or limbs having narrow-angled crotches are weaker than these having large crotch angles (Fig. 10). The bark of the adjoining branches turns into tightly compressed or “included,” stopping regular wooden growth. Winter ice, trapped down in crotches, usually causes narrow-angled branches to separate.

Therapeutic Response to Pruning

Figure 11. Areas of cambium important for healing: (a) bark ridge and (b) collar tissue.Determine 11. Areas of cambium vital for therapeutic: (a) bark ridge and (b) collar tissue.

Therapeutic naturally follows pruning or wounding. It begins within the cambium, a skinny layer of cells between the wooden and bark. Two areas of the cambium, the bark ridge on the junction of two limbs, and the department collar, a hoop of barely raised tissue the place the lateral department joins the primary limb, operate to shut off the wound between the plant and the pruning reduce. For quickest therapeutic, prune near the primary department with out injuring the bark ridge or department collar areas (Fig. 11). Leaving a stub will sluggish therapeutic and invite decay. Wound dressings or pruning paint are beauty and do little to advertise therapeutic of the pruned space.

Time for Pruning

Time of pruning varies with plant species. Prune at occasions that finest complement the expansion traits, flowering, and different aims you need.

Many woody ornamentals are pruned in accordance with their date of flowering. For instance, spring-flowering crops, comparable to dogwood or forsythia, usually are pruned after they bloom. Pruning spring-flowering shrubs throughout the dormant season will take away flower buds shaped the earlier fall. Summer season-flowering crops usually are pruned throughout the dormant winter season. If crops should not grown for his or her flowers, the very best time for pruning is throughout the dormant winter season earlier than new progress begins within the spring. Keep away from heavy pruning throughout the late summer season and fall as a result of regrowth could happen and make the crops extra vulnerable to chilly damage. Peach timber, for instance, shouldn’t be pruned from October by means of January.

Some crops bleed closely after pruning. Bleeding is unpleasant however not normally dangerous. Bushes topic to bleeding must be pruned within the late spring or early summer season when leaves are on the tree. Actively rising leaves have a tendency to cut back the quantity of bleeding from pruning cuts and permit the cuts to heal extra shortly. Crops that bleed readily embrace willows, birches, maples, beeches and dogwoods.

Prune After Flowering

  • Azalea
  • Beautybush
  • Bigleaf Hydrangea
  • Bradford Pear
  • Bridalwreath Spirea
  • Clematis
  • Climbing Roses
  • Crabapple
  • Deutzia
  • Dogwood
  • Doublefile Vibernum
  • Flowering Almond
  • Flowering Cherry
  • Flowering Quince
  • Forsythia
  • Japanese Kerria
  • Japanese Pieris
  • Lilac
  • Mockorange
  • Oakleaf Hydrangea
  • Pearlbush
  • Pyracantha
  • Redbud
  • Saucer Magnolia
  • Star Magnolia
  • Shrub Honeysuckle
  • Thunberg Spirea
  • Vanhoutte Spirea
  • Weigelia
  • Winter Daphne
  • Wisteria
  • Witchhazel

Prune Earlier than Spring Progress Begins

  • Beautyberry
  • Camellia
  • Chaste Tree (Vitex)
  • Cranberrybush Viburnum
  • Crape Myrtle
  • Floribunda Roses
  • Aromatic Tea Olive
  • Shiny Abelia
  • Goldenrain Tree
  • Grandiflora Roses
  • Japanese Barberry
  • Japanese Spirea
  • Mimosa
  • Nandina
  • Rose-of-Sharon (Althea)
  • Sourwood
  • Anthony Waterer Spirea
  • Sweetshrub


Pruning is a useful instrument for creating and sustaining woody crops. Creating clear pruning aims is vital. By combining these aims with a fundamental understanding of pruning and the way crops reply, you may derive most profit from the trouble.
A number of key factors regarding using pruning in woody crops are summarized beneath.

  • Pruning is an invigorating course of, stimulating regrowth in proportion to pruning severity. Gentle annual pruning is healthier than periodical extreme pruning.
  • The 2 fundamental kinds of pruning cuts are heading and thinning. Thinning cuts are the least invigorating sort of reduce and are the best pruning reduce for sustaining woody crops of their pure type.
  • Pruning, notably heading cuts, stimulates regrowth very near the pruning reduce. Heading cuts, comparable to topping, dehorning and hedging, usually are misused and destroy the pure form of crops as a result of they stimulate regrowth close to pruning cuts.
  • Bench cuts, pruning upright limbs again to flat limbs, lead to vigorous regrowth and weak limbs. As a substitute, skinny out limbs leaving these oriented at a 45° to 60° angle from vertical.
  • Pruning time must be dictated by particular necessities or traits of the plant comparable to flowering date, susceptibility to chilly climate, and so forth.
  • Wounds heal quickest when pruning doesn’t disturb vital areas of cambium such because the bark ridge and department collar. Wound dressing is beauty and doesn’t promote therapeutic.
  • All too usually, improper pruning methods severely injury or kill woody crops. If you want woody crops correctly maintained, personally supervise or conduct the pruning operation.

Acknowledgment is made to Dr. Stephen C. Myers for creating the unique manuscript for this publication.


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