Pruning trees and shrubs can be intimidating, but there are a few easy cuts that will help beginners build confidence and understand what to look for:
1. Water sprouts
Water sprouts are vertical branches arising from the top of a larger branch or from a point on a trunk or stem where growth was previously removed. Water sprouts are easy to spot, thanks to their thin and very upright growth. They should be removed because if they’re allowed to grow they will block the light from reaching lower branches and limit the air flow through the canopy. Cut them off where they start.
2. Branches that cross the trunk or other branches
These are also easy to spot once you look for them. A branch that crosses another branch (or is headed that way) or that grows toward or across the trunk or main stem should be removed. If left to grow they will rub against that other branch or stem, creating a weak spot or an entry for pests and diseases. Cut a crossing branch off slightly above its collar (the swollen point where the branch joins the trunk).
3. Dead or damaged branches
Remove these to avoid problems with pests and diseases and to head off further damage that would occur when the dead or damaged wood drops off on its own. Damaged branches are easy to spot. If you’re unsure whether a branch is dead, try scratching the bark away with your fingernail or a sharp tool. Green wood underneath means it’s alive, while a brittle, brown interior means it’s dead. Cut dead or damaged branches slightly above the branch collar.
For more on pruning trees and shrubs, we recommend the guides offered online by the University of Maryland Extension.
Image credit: By Rasbak - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0