Pruning & Pinching

Pruning plants is essential to promote growth. By removing deadwood, spent blooms or unruly or unhealthy growth, you allow a healthier plant to take shape, without wasting growth energy.

In the garden, pruning is generally reserved for roses, trees and shrubs. Using sharp tools is essential to every pruning job, but see plant specific areas to get more in-depth guidelines.

Tree pruning

Sometimes you’ll want to prune a tree to control its size or shape — for instance, if its too close to a building or utility lines.

Prune dead branches that cross and rub against others in the wind or broken branches caused by a storm. Pruning deciduous trees before they leaf out in the spring makes it easier to spot and remove branches.

Here are a few pointers for pruning without damaging the tree:

  • Cut off smaller branches and suckers with pruning shears. Use loppers or a tree saw on anything thicker than your finger.
  • When removing a branch, do not remove or cut the “collar” — the ridge of bark that encircles the base of the branch. The collar contains chemicals that help the tree heal itself and protect against disease entering through the wound.
  • Dont tear the bark, as it can cause problems for the tree. To prevent tearing off a strip of bark, first make a cut into the underside of the branch, then cut through from the top of the branch to sever it.
  • Make cuts at a slight diagonal, rather than straight across the branch.
  • Avoid “topping” a tree (cutting off all branches at the top its growth). It destroys the trees natural shape — the result is invariably ugly and damage cannot be reversed.

In short, treat your trees with respect when pruning them and they’ll be healthier and more beautiful for years to come.


Pinching, or deadheading is simply the practice of removing flowers when they’re finished blooming. It will make your garden look neater without dead flowers spoiling your display. Beyond that, deadheading can extend your flowering season and help keep your plants vigorous.

Why to do it

Removing faded flowers before they go to seed will encourage more blooming. If the flowers go to seed it signals to the plant that the life cycle is over. Pinching off the tips of a few plant stems will encourage them to branch out and produce more blooms.

A few plants, like impatiens and begonias, don’t need deadheading, so keep that in mind if youre looking to save time in the garden!

How to do it

Deadhead by pinching flowers between thumb and finger or snip them off with pruning shears or scissors. Avoid tugging the plant because that may damage the roots and slow growth. Remove part of the stem as well as the flower just be sure to get the seedpod.

Pinch back leggy annuals like petunias every month or so, and theyll grow back bushier and bloom anew for months. Don’t cut back the whole plant at once. Shorten a third of the stems by 1/3 to 2/3 of their length each week. By the time you’ve trimmed the last batch, the first ones will be renewed.