Pruning 101


Pruning shrubs in an ornamental landscape is important to ensure the long term health and vigor of your shrubs.  Perhaps the first thing to understand about pruning is that it is very different from sheering or shaping.  

Correct pruning will result in a good framework to support future growth.   Removal of dead, diseased, broken, or crowded branches that can lead to trouble should also be part of a thorough pruning job.  Lastly, the size of an ornamental shrub can be restricted through proper pruning techniques—to a point.  Nothing will correct the error of planting the wrong shrub in the wrong place.

Does pruning a shrub intimidate you?  There is a lot to understand before technically pruning a shrub.  I highly advise that you seek the advice of a landscape professional before proceeding if you have any reservations.  However, if you follow a few very simple and logical steps, and proceed slowly you should be alright.  There are some differences in pruning techniques depending on the reason why you are pruning and the exact shrub you are pruning.  For this general instruction sheet, I am going to give step by step directions on how to prune a Red Twig Dogwood (RTDW).  RTDW) is perhaps one of the most forgiving shrubs in our landscape and therefore is a great one for novice pruners to practice their skills on.  Remember—often, plants grow in spite of us! Let’s get started.

Identify the Red Twig Dogwood that you are going to prune.  Look for any weeds, weedy trees, or other unwanted or encroaching plants and remove these before you get started.  Now that your RTDW is clear of any unwanted foreign entities you are ready to begin.  Use a sharp bypass lopper and hand pruner to complete these steps.  A saw should not be necessary for this shrub.

1. Remove all dead branches.  These will usually be brown/tan in color and brittle when compared to the brilliant red color of all healthy stem.

2. Remove all old branches.  Old branches are grey and have a rough bark appearance on the stem.  The new stems again are brilliant red in color and smooth.

3. Are there a few really thick stems?  Remove these too—but perhaps not all of them.  Be selective and remove up to half of the thickest stems at the base of the shrub.


Prune-RTDW (9)4.  Now you should be left with nothing but bright red stems, medium to young in age.  The next step is to thin the shrub from top to bottom.  Do this by staggering pruning cuts throughout the shrubs remaining stems, ultimately removing about 20-30% of the total.

5. Sizing—if there is a window, walkway, or other planting considerations in the area you may want to reduce the size of the plant.  Do this by clipping the shrub to reflect the desired size.  Stagger your cuts so that the shrub does not have a blunt face or top to it.  I also recommend that you reduce the size 8-12” below the maximum desired size.  This will allow you to maintain the shrubs size without having to structurally prune again for some time.

6. Finally, you are ready to shape the shrub.  Now, please don’t take a hedge trimmer to the shrub as a naturally growing shrub would never have a hedged look.  Red Twig Dogwood is usually not turned into a hedge and has a very nice, natural appearance.  Use your hand clipper to remove any spurts of growth that go against the intended final shape.


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