How to Prune Ornamental Trees


It is common misconception that once we have planted an ornamental tree it should remain untouched. If this was the case then we would miss some wonderful opportunities to explore the full potential of the tree’s characteristics!

The 4 pruning techniques are suggested and represented with separate symbols across our coloured tree labels, information guides, books and website. See a full explanation below.

Hard Prune Hard prune 

These trees can be pruned severely at any time without causing any harm to the tree. There are several terms used for this technique such as ‘Coppicing’ (ground level) and ‘Pollarding’ (above ground). After severe cutting of the main branches the tree will respond by growing very vigorous young growth. This strong growth will provide spectacular results with large succulent leaves and more intense autumn and winter shoot colour. What happens above ground will also be mirrored below with a restricted root system.

Prune after flowering Prune after flowering 

These varieties can be pruned hard after flowering to promote even better bloom the flowering year. This symbol is used for non fruiting trees that flower on one year wood. By hard pruning all the shoots after flowering the resulting growth produces healthy flower bud for the following spring.

Replacement prune Replacement prune

An occasional thinning out of some of the branches can be undertaken to encourage fresh replacement growth. Most trees in this category flower on older than one year wood. As such would benefit from air and light being introduced to the canopy, encouraging healthy replacement growth. Up to a maximum of 1/4 of all branches can be removed each year. Pruning in the summer is often advisable as less disease would enter pruning cuts and the pruner can see the full effect of the foliage result. This technique is useful where trees are used for supports for climbers such as vines.

No pruning No pruning

These varieties prefer to be left alone and would not benefit from any regular or structured pruning. This refers to many conifers which do not easily produce new growth from heavy cuts into old wood. Also where excessive sap loss or bacterial infection can result if pruned too often.

Tree bough pruning

Where larger trees need an isolated bough removed then it is worth following the correct method. When a large bough is cut from a tree more damage can occur if done the wrong way. The illustration identifies the branch collar and shows where not to cut and correct cutting position. If the sequence of cuts 1, 2 and 3 are followed no damage will occur. This method is also safest.

Tree Bough Pruning

Large Trees

When dealing with large trees that need professional skills and equipment it is advisable to ask a qualified tree surgeon.

Pruning Conifers

It is generally not advisable to prune conifers without establishing a few principles first. Those that can be pruned successfully into old wood from which re-growth would be successful are Larix, Taxodium, Taxus and Thuja, the first two being deciduous conifers.

All other conifers can be pruned in two ways: the first is clipping annually but restricting this to the foliage only as one would do with hedging. Secondly by pruning off lower branches or ‘crow lifting’. A technique quite effective with dwarf pines to show off their attractive bark. It is important to remember to be bold and remove the branch entirely with a clean cut back to the main trunk. The illustration above under Tree bough pruning is particularly appropriate in this case.

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