Skip to main content

Pruning 101: 5 pruning blunders to avoid this spring

When spring rolls around, gardeners and homeowners across the United States start revving up their mowers, getting out their gardening gloves, and prepping their gardens for the growing season. Some of them even pull out some pruning shears and get to work cutting and chopping their plants. But, before you get to cutting, let’s first talk about the pruning mistakes to avoid. 

Teens pruning plants

Why is pruning important?

It’s essential to get into the habit of pruning your plants regularly. Pruning is healthy for the plants in many ways. When done correctly, it encourages newer and healthier growth. This cutting back makes them stronger and sturdier, as well. For instance, plants with lopsided growth are at risk of falling over or breaking off. Maintaining your plants with pruning can also prevent diseases and pests from spreading and killing the plants or those around them.

If you’re looking to tame the wild, pruning can help keep your plants in check and sharpen the look of your landscaping. You might think that pruning is unnatural and that plants are better off left alone, like in nature. However, pruning happens naturally in the wild by animals, insects, and weather. But when we grow these lovely plants in our garden, we protect them from those natural events, so we have to prune them.

Some plants that may need pruning in your garden this spring are:

1. Pruning without purpose

Most things in life have better results when you plan them out first. The same goes for pruning! Before you get to chopping off random stems and branches, you should first think about the purpose of the pruning. It would be best if you went into a pruning project with an idea of what you’re trying to achieve. For example, yearly maintenance, reshaping the plant, or cutting off dead or old wood. These are all great ideas when it comes to protecting and tending to your plants. Just be sure you get clear about your intentions before you start. Without a plan, you might go lopping off more than you need to and hurt the plant more than help it.

2. Cutting the plant improperly

Yes, there is a right and a wrong way to make a cut when pruning a plant. A proper cut helps the plant grow happier and healthier, but the wrong kind of cut can cause damage that takes a few years to recover from. At worst, haphazard cuts can easily kill the plant, or at the very least, make it more susceptible to disease and pests.

3. Pruning heavily during the growing season

You should never prune your plants during their heavy growing season. This time of year is typically spring through the late summer. By chopping off all its leaves, you might starve a tree if it doesn’t have enough stored food to make it through the hot part of the season. Spring and summer are when plants create their food and without enough stems with leaves to make that food, they could suffer or even die.

Two people pruning a tree

4. Not using sharp and clean tools

Who sharpens their pruning shears? You should! Dull pruning tools make rough and improper cuts, and this can cause more damage to the tree or plant and make it more susceptible to diseases and pests. So be sure you sharpen your pruning shears every year and disinfect them between each plant. Disinfecting them prevents diseases from transferring from one plant to another — you wouldn’t want your doctor to use the same syringe on you as they did on the last patient!

5. Over-pruning your plants

No matter the plant, there is such a thing as over-pruning. This might look different on different plants, so you’ll want to do some research on what is best for the plant you’re about to prune. For example, when pruning a mature forsythia bush, you can prune all the way down to 4 inches above the soil without harming the plant. However, that same pruning would kill a boxwood. So spend a few minutes before you put on your gloves and head outside to figure out what your plant needs.

When planting your garden and designing your landscaping, it can be easy to forget that plants need more than just water and sunlight. Pruning is an essential part of a healthy plant care routine, but it’s vital to the life of the plant that it’s done correctly. Avoid these common pruning mistakes to prevent accidental damage to your beautiful garden.

Editors' Recommendations

Rebecca Wolken
Former Digital Trends Contributor
Rebecca's has written for Bob Villa and a Cincinnati based remodeling company. When she's not writing about home remodeling…
5 fantastic (and creative) container garden ideas
Container garden inspiration to get you started
Three container gardens with flowers on a patio

From simple but lovely displays of a single flower to a complicated but elegant bonsai tree, container gardens come in many forms. If you’re facing down an empty spot by a window or on your porch and aren’t sure what to put there, a container garden might just be the best idea. What should your container garden look like, though, and which plants should you choose? No need to be overwhelmed with endless options. We’ve put together five creative container garden ideas to get you started.
(Snap)dragon’s hoard

For fans of fantasy, why not create an enchanting display that’s also a fun pun? Start with a cluster of snapdragons in the center of your container garden. Red is traditional for a dragon, but any color of snapdragon will work. Next, assemble the dragon’s hoard around it.

Read more
Watch out for these signs of root rot in your plants
How to prevent and treat root rot
Pothos plant in a vase of water with roots

Every gardener wants their plants to be healthy and thriving. There are pests and diseases to look out for, but most of those affect plants above the ground, which makes them somewhat easier to spot, prevent, and treat. What about your plant’s roots, though? Don’t let root rot be out of sight, out of mind! Here is everything you need to know about spotting the signs of root rot.
What is root rot?

Root rot is, as the name suggests, is when the roots of a plant begin to rot and decompose before the plant is dead. There are two main causes of root rot, and although there is some overlap in symptoms and preventative measures, your treatment options may be slightly different.

Read more
What you need to know about deadheading in your garden
Tips and tricks for deadheading your flowers
Gloved hand deadheading a lily

Flowers are a beautiful, colorful way to decorate your home or yard. Whether you’re growing a garden full of blooms or just a single flower to spruce up a corner of your home, you’ll want your plants to bloom as often and for as long as possible. One technique you may have heard of is deadheading. What is deadheading, though, and how does it work? How do you know if your plants would benefit from it, and how can you deadhead your plants without hurting them? We’ll answer all your questions about deadheading here in this simple guide.
What is deadheading?

Deadheading is the act of removing dead flowers from the plant. This serves a couple of purposes. It improves the aesthetics of plants and the garden overall by getting rid of dead blooms. More importantly, however, it frees up energy for your plant to use. Plants will continue to devote energy to blooms that have died, since this is where seeds or fruit form.

Read more