Categories: Organic Gardening

Pruning 101: What to Prune When

By Published On: May 23, 2016
Pruning 101: What to Prune When

Pruning 101: What to Prune When


Ever get confused as to what to prune when? Or simply wonder where to begin?

The good news is, there’s no rush to prune. In fact, some plants are better left to grow as they will and need only minimal care. Others, such as herbs, prefer frequent pruning particularly during their peak growing season — which means bigger harvests for you.

Tender herbs such as basil, dill, mint, parsley and cilantro perform better with regular pruning during late spring and summer. Take leaves as you need them for the kitchen or, better yet, harvest the first 4 to 6 inches, measuring from the tip down toward the base of the plant. If you’re working with a larger, more mature plant you can safely take up to 2/3 of a particular stem — making sure to leave up 2 to 3 leaf nodes near the base of the plant. This will keep your plants from becoming leggy and bolting while also managing for a fuller, more robust plant. Meaning you’re more likely to have many, sequential harvests throughout the growing season and as many rounds of fresh pesto, mojitos and salad fixings.

Use a sharp tool, such as these Fiskars precision snips (above). These are by far one of my new favorite tools. They make harvesting kitchen garden veggies, herbs and flowers easy.

See, How to Harvest Basil, for a better look as to where the leaf nodes are located and read more on how best to prune tender herbs.


Pruning 101: What to Prune When


When working with perennials or flowering trees and shrubs there are a few more details to keep in mind to help maintain a flourishing, healthy garden.

Spring Flowering Shrubs vs. Summer and Fall Flowering Shrubs

Most perennials, shrubs and trees need pruning only once a year and some can get away with little to no pruning.

If you’re working with spring flowering shrubs such as forsythia, viburnums, lilac and mock orange prune only after flowering. I pencil in June 15 as a general rule, waiting until then to tidy and encourage new growth. This is because these plants flower on wood that’s developed in summer and fall, since last flowering. If you prune in winter, you’ll be taking the wood that holds precious flower buds and that means waiting an entire season to see them again.

The dead of winter or early spring is the time to prune summer and fall flowering shrubs and trees. This is when they’re dormant and have not yet been triggered by warming weather to begin growing. Pruning invigorates new growth, just like with tender herbs, which also encourages flower and fruit set. If you have a plant that looks dull and scraggly, it’s probably in need of rejuvenation. A healthy does of compost and mulch along with winter pruning and you’ll be surprised with the results.

Hydrangeas: Do Your Homework

Hydrangeas remind us that there are some groups of plants that have both spring and summer flowering varieties. Learn the plants in your garden and keep a journal as to what needs care when to avoid confusion.

Don’t Cut in Fall

The last thing you want is for your plants to get excited to grow right before winter. Remember, pruning encourages growth so, as a general rule, leave it off the fall garden t0-do list.

Avoid Wet Days

Water can spread disease. If you cut back plants on wet days they may be more likely to have problems later.


Pruning 101: What to Prune When



In my book, vines are an exception. Anything noxious or simply a plant that is taking over, such as what happens with most vines, including Banks Rose and kiwi’s, can handle a summer hair cut.

I found this apple tree hiding off in a corner, hidden by English Ivy. You can see there was just a glimpse of the apples yet to come (below: top right image) and the rest was smothered in vines. I take far less care in a case like this and instead hack away to reach the base of the vines themselves. For this job, loppers, clippers and a saw were all I needed to make short work of it. You can see, in the very bottom image that, with the tree free of vines, there is room for air to move and sun to reach lower branches.


Pruning 101: What to Prune When


Know How to Cut

Good pruning can open your plant to light and improve circulation, which helps prevent disease. It also optimizes shape and form. Look for dead or sickly looking branches and stems, clear away twiggy material that tends to form due to shearing and open up the shape of roses and other shrubs by cutting back branches that cross. Also, are that seem to jump out and hit you or are you repeatedly knocking your head on the same branch? If so, trim these too.

Do your best to make your cuts as close to the main stem or branching point as possible, cutting at the same angle as the collar. Try not to leave a nub where disease can form but also try not to cut into the main stem.

Clean Tools & Good Tools

The trick to pruning with less effort and greater success is to use the right tool for the job and be sure they’re clean. Don’t under power yourself with clippers when you really need loppers and move on to a tree pruner when you need even more leverage and reach. Switch to small tools designed for precision when working with tender plants and cuttings.

What I love about Fiskars Power Gear tools is that the inner mechanism of the power gear increases your cutting power, applying greater force — especially compared to a similar tool without the mechanism. It’s like an inner spring action with a twist, making the job of cleaning, clearing and rejuvenating a garden more joy and less struggle.

Keep tools clean by washing with soapy water or add a teaspoon or two of bleach to a bucket of water to disinfect. I like to let tools dry in the sun to top things off.


Pruning 101: What to Prune When


Enter to Win!

I’m teaming up with Fiskars to giveaway some of my favorite pruning tools. The Power Gear loppers and clippers along with a folding saw — just the right size for a pocket — and my beloved precision snips. Enter to win below and find more options at their site: Fiskars


a Rafflecopter giveaway

Here’s the Pinterest pin link: Pruning 101: What to Prune When + Fiskars Tool Giveaway

Learn More About the Tools

Fiskars PowerGear2 Pruner

Fiskars 18 Inch PowerGear Bypass Lopper (96256935J)

Fiskars 7 Inch PowerTooth Folding Pruning Saw (93516935)

Fiskars 9921 Precision Cutting Pruning Snips, Fiskars 9214 Rotating Grass Shears


Related post: Grow More Vegetables With Less Space

Related post: Make Your Own Peat-Free Seed Starting Mix

Related post: Finding New Life Through Gardening


*Note there are affiliate links in this article.

Trash Can Tomatoes: How to Plant & Grow Tomatoes
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About the Author: Emily Murphy

I’ve learned there’s something wonderfully powerful in the simple act of growing. Here, in our gardens, we can repair ourselves and our plots of earth with our own two hands. GROW WHAT YOU LOVE and GROW NOW!


  1. Jade Brunet November 1, 2016 at 1:57 pm - Reply

    Thank you for this article about what to prune and when. It is good to know that one should not cut in the fall. It would not be good for plants to get excited and grow right before winter. Something to consider would be to ensure that you use quality pruning tools to facilitate the task and to ensure that plants are not harmed.

  2. joanna May 27, 2016 at 5:15 am - Reply

    I did everything but instagram. I do not own an I-phone. I love fiskars and I sure could use one with over 250 roses to prune. :)

    • Emily Murphy May 27, 2016 at 9:55 am - Reply

      Oh! You would love these tools. They sound perfect for you. Fingers crossed and thank you!

  3. LaJuana May 25, 2016 at 8:27 pm - Reply

    It’s beaming my entries up! Hope that bodes well! ? Couldn’t find the Pin link but I was already following you there. Great contest and some valuable advice!

    • Emily Murphy May 25, 2016 at 9:21 pm - Reply

      Thanks so much! Fingers crossed for you and thanks too for the note on the Pinterest link. I’m trying to sort this out. In the mean time I’ve added the link just below the raffle. Best! Emily

  4. Fee Roberts May 25, 2016 at 11:01 am - Reply

    The pin image isn’t showing up on Pinterest. Thanks for the giveaway.

    • Emily Murphy May 25, 2016 at 11:10 am - Reply

      Thanks for the note! I’ll try to fix that. In the meantime, I’ve included the link to the Pinterest pin just below the raffle entry form. Thanks again! Emily

  5. Laura / Pet Scribbles May 24, 2016 at 3:41 pm - Reply

    What a helpful post! And perfect timing too! Thanks so much!