Pruning Pointers

Late winter/early spring is a good time for pruning many outdoor plants but is certainly not the only time. Additionally, it is important to be aware that removing branches from spring blooming trees and shrubs means the sacrifice of the flowers (and fruit) those branches would have produced later in the season.

When pruning, it is generally far better to think of selective thinning rather than simply cutting back. In fact, indiscriminately cutting back can ruin the form of a tree to the point where recovery to a structurally strong, aesthetically pleasing canopy is difficult.

I often tell people to “prune from the bottom up” working out each branch and removing branches and/or branchlets that are downward hanging (except weeping trees), branches which are or will be crossing or crowding other branches and branches which are coming off the main trunk(s) at too low a height (head clearance).

Weak and/or injured branches should be removed if at all possible. Make cuts close to but not flush with the branch or trunk you are cutting to but try to leave the generally obvious “collar” undamaged.

In my opinion, the best looking trees are those that don’t look pruned at all. I love to see trees with full but open crowns (canopies); upward appropriately angled branching and, certainly, no stubby ends with dozens of “water sprouts” sticking up.

Think of a beautiful tree in a painting and the strength and peace of mind that image evokes. Do a little research as to the natural growth habit of the particular tree varieties you have. Then, use the simple techniques mentioned earlier but allow the tree to do most of the work.

Soon, someone may come by and ask to paint your tree!  Back to Grow It Missoula blog home page.


Bill Caras is a lifelong Missoulian whose family has been here over a century.  The family business, Caras Nursery and Landscape, has operated from the same location on S. 3rd W. since 1896. Bill is a plant nut and draws from many years observation of all things related to gardening in western Montana. Still, he says, he learns something new every day.