Tips and Tricks for Trimming and Pruning


By Evan Rivers

Trees, shrubs, and bushes are an amazing addition to any landscape. While they are meant to add beauty and uniformity, improper care can lead to the opposite effect. If you fail to trim and prune your shrubs and bushes, you may end up with unruly plants that make your yard look chaotic. While trimming and pruning can seem like an intimidating process, we have provided you with the information necessary to beautifully trim and prune your plants. If you still find yourself needing professional help, Rivers Lawn and Landscape can satisfy your lawn care needs. 

What is trimming?

While trimming and pruning are both removing portions of plants, their purpose is a little different. Trimming is primarily for immediate aesthetic purposes: you use hedge trimmers to shape the plant to make it more attractive. Trimming doesn’t have as much to do with the structure of the plant as pruning does. Messy, untrimmed hedges can look chaotic and disorderly. Taking the time to trim your bushes and shrubs properly can give your landscape a clean, manicured look.

shrubbery RLL

Trimming Tips

Trimming is important for maintaining a well-kept lawn, and it can be simple to learn how to do so.

Lay Out a Tarp

First, you want to lay out a tarp or sheet of some kind. When your clippings fall to the ground, they can be difficult to pick up. Using a sheet or tarp will ensure a quick and easy cleanup process.

Plan Your Shape

Before you begin trimming, you need to plan what shape your shrub will be. Are you looking for a flat shape, a boxy shape, or a rounded shape? Regardless of shape, having a plan in place and visualizing your shape will help ensure you get the look you desire.

Use Hedge Trimmers

Find a good set of hedge trimmers before trimming your bush. Hedge trimmers come in both manual and automatic styles. Manual hedge trimmers have long, flat, straight blades. This makes it easier for the user to create straight lines when trimming hedges. Automatic hedge trimmers have a blade that moves on its own, similar to a chain saw. All you have to do is move the blade along the shrub, and the machine does the trimming for you.

Start Trimming

Trimming your bushes and shrubs is more than just playing a guessing game with hedge trimmers. The way you approach and trim the bush is important, and you should have a plan in place to prevent overtrimming the bush.

Work your way from the bottom to the top of the plant. If you trim too much from the bottom and leave too much on the top, the top branches may shade the bottom branches. This could result in the lower branches on the bush receiving too little sunlight and dying. In fact, you may want to even cut your bush in a tapered fashion, so the top is narrower than the bottom.

If using automatic hedge trimmers, move slowly and only cut a couple of inches at a time. You can always cut more off, but you can’t add branches back on once you’ve cut them.

Always check and re-check. As you’re working, cut a little bit and then step back and observe the shrub. Do this periodically to ensure that your bush looks good from afar.

These rules may sound overwhelming, as there are many steps to ensure proper trimming. If you feel that you need help trimming your plants, contact a professional lawn care service provider like Rivers Lawn and Landscape. We will ensure that your bushes and shrubs are trimmed in a way that complements and beautifies your property.

Rock by RLL

What is pruning?

Pruning has more to do with the structure of the plant. Pruning is cutting away dead, diseased, or weak limbs. It can have many benefits, including increased flowering, more rapid growth, and prevention of overgrowth. While pruning has many positive benefits, failing to prune can have negative consequences. If you do not take the time to prune your bushes and shrubs each year, you may be subject to overgrowth, or your plant may not thrive.

Pruning will only positively benefit your plants if you do it correctly. Different plants like to be pruned at different times, and you must research how and when to prune individual plants for the best growth.

Pruning Tips

Pruning your plants is an essential practice, but it is important that you do it in the right way. Continue reading to learn the best practices for pruning your plants.

Selecting Tools

Different pruning jobs require different materials, and you must select the right tool. If you select a tool that is too small for the job, you will not be able to cut the branch. If you select a tool that is too big for the job, you may injure yourself or others. The most common pruning tools are:

  • Bypass Pruners: Bypass pruners are best for the smallest pruning jobs. They are a handheld tool that can easily prune small plants and cut branches up to 1/2 inch in diameter.
  • Lopping Shears: Lopping shears are a bit larger than bypass pruners. They have long handles, making it easier to trim medium-sized branches that are higher off the ground. Lopping shears work best on branches up to 2 inches in diameter.
  • Pole Pruners: Pole pruners are useful for reaching branches that are very high off the ground. They have a pulley rope system that allows you to get leverage and cut branches from the ground. However, pole pruners have a greater risk of injury.
  • Pruning Saws: Pruning saws come in handy when trimming larger branches and trees.
  • Chain Saws: For the largest of pruning jobs, chain saws are sometimes necessary.

For more information on choosing a pruning tool, refer to Gardeners’ World’s helpful article.

Keep Pruning Tools Sharp

While selecting the right tools for your pruning job is very important, it is imperative that your pruning tools are sharp enough. If you do not maintain your blades’ sharpness, you are only making the job harder for yourself. Many people simply use files to sharpen garden tools with blades. If you need help with safely sharpening your pruning blades, refer to this helpful guide.

rivers lawn care mulch job from 2018

Cut in the Right Place

Proper pruning can promote the optimal growth of your plants. However, if you do not cut the stems in the right place, you may cause more harm than good to your plants.

You want to cut the stem just above the bud. Cutting too close to the bud can damage it or cause it to die, and cutting too far away from the bud can encourage water retention and rotting. You want to find a happy medium.

Cut at the Right Angle

While cutting in the right location is important, cutting at the right angle is important, as well. Cutting the stem at a 45-degree angle is ideal. This maximizes the opportunity for new growth while minimizing the chances of the stems rotting and dying. 

Cut the Right Amount

When pruning and trimming bushes and shrubs, it is important that you cut the ideal amount. Cutting too little can result in overgrowth of the bush, and cutting too much can cause the bush to die and not grow back. The ideal amount is to cut the bush to around 1/2 to 1/3 of its original size for maximum growth in the future.

Be Mindful of Buds

When pruning, you want to avoid picking a random bud and cutting right above it. You want to be mindful of which bud you leave at the top. The bud closest to the top of the stem will bloom first, so you want to think first about which direction you want the bush to grow. Typically, people want the bush to grow outwards, so it is best to trim right above an outward-facing bud.

hedge by RLL

Cut Back Weak Branches

An important part of pruning is getting rid of weak and diseased branches in your plants. When pruning, it is beneficial to seek out the weakest, narrowest branches and cut them back. This will encourage the growth of stronger branches, and as a result, your plant will be stronger and healthier overall.

Prune at the Right Time

Knowing when to prune is just as important as knowing how to prune. Pruning at the right time can encourage massive growth of some plants, and pruning at the wrong time may cause the plant not to bloom at all. Most flowering shrubs do best with pruning right after they flower, and most nonflowering shrubs need to be pruned right after new growth has completely formed.

Trimming and Pruning of Common Plants: How-To

Now that you’ve learned the basics on trimming and pruning, let’s look at some common plants from our area and learn how and when to trim and prune them.

1. Holly Shrubs

  • The best time to prune a holly shrub is in the winter when the plant is dormant.
  • Prune by removing dead or diseased limbs first, working from the inside out.
  • If shaping into a hedge, do not prune the lower branches shorter than the upper ones.
  • Avoid removing lower limbs

2. Boxwoods

  • Avoid trimming in late fall: the new growth following the trimming may not have time to develop before the first frost.
  • Use hand shears or electric hedge clippers to trim boxwoods.
  • Younger plants should be trimmed more frequently to encourage growth.
  • Do not trim too frequently. This can encourage excessive growth that will block sunlight from the base of the plant

3. Roses

  • Roses should be pruned in the early spring soon after the first frost. In our area, this is usually in March or April.
  • Dead flowers can be trimmed away any time during the summer. This will cause more blooms.
  • In the fall, dead and diseased branches, long branches, and crossing branches should be trimmed to protect the bush from harsh winter weather. This is typically done after the first frost.

For more detailed information about pruning rose bushes, refer to Garden Design’s guide.

4. Camellias

  • The best time to prune is right after the plant’s last bloom of the year.
  • There are two main reasons for pruning camellias: insect and disease control and shaping
  • Insect and disease control: trim out some of the inner branches to allow for air flow and sunlight throughout the plant. Additionally, trim small or weak branches from the plant.
  • Shaping: snip the ends with hand shears or hedge clippers until they are the desired shape.

5. Nandinas

  • Best time to prune: winter or early spring
  • Pruning allows for more dense growth
  • Trim out 1/3 of the existing stalks at the ground
  • Of those remaining, trim off 1/2 of their height

6. Crape Myrtles

  • The best time to prune crape myrtles is in early spring.
  • Remove thinner, lower limbs

Next Steps

Proper trimming and pruning can transform your landscape by encouraging your plants’ best look and the best possible growth. However, they can sometimes be complicated and methodical processes, especially pruning. If you follow the steps above, your plants will thank you by being bigger and more beautiful than ever. Need help with trimming or pruning from a lawn care professional? Contact us at Rivers Lawn and Landscape for a free estimate.