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In The Garden: Pruning 101 – Jan/Feb2017

In The Garden: Pruning 101 - Jan/Feb2017

The trees around our homes will soon reveal the harsh realities of winter. All we need is a good, old-fashioned, mid-winter thaw, and then we can experience the healing effects of pruning.


Hand pruners | Used for light work, hand pruners are ideal for shaping existing tree branches. Reach into young, woody limbs to remove oneto three-year-old growth that has either been broken, or bent over from the weight of snow and ice.

Pruning saw | Forget the cross-cut and the rip saw in the basement, a pruning saw is designed for the unique purpose of cutting through green, living wood – up to approximately 10 centimetres (four inches) in diameter. It has teeth that are arranged alternately so that you get a ‘purchase’ on the wood on the fore strokes, and on the backstrokes. If you have an old saw, sharpen it, replace the blade or buy a new one. It’s no secret, but you’re only as good as your tools, and a sharp saw will get the most effective cut, with the least amount of effort.

Loppers | Both anvil and by-pass type loppers can be very effective at cutting green wood up to eight centimetres (three inches) in diameter. Generally, these tools require less effort and work more quickly than a pruning saw, but if you cut a branch that is too big, the cutting blades will twist.

Pole Pruner | A good quality pole pruner can pay for itself many times over if you know how to use it. However, there are a few caveats. First, the pruning saw on the end of the pole pruner has limitations. Do not attempt to cut a tree limb that is more than 10 centimetres (four inches) in diameter. Also, fatigue is a factor. The leverage of a seven-metre pole pruner, extended to its maximum length, can be awkward to maneuver. Practice on lower limbs first, and then work your way up to the most lofty specimens. Safety is paramount you don’t want a tree limb to fall on your head. Wear a safety helmet and safety glasses. Take small sections of the limb off at a time, starting with those that are the greatest distance from the main trunk of the tree. Do not stand on a ladder with the pole pruner extended. Work with a buddy who can assist and guide you to branches that may not be visible from your vantage point.


Branches that are broken will need to be removed. Ideally, you should cut minor branches back to where they meet a major branch or the main trunk of the tree. Make a cut about one third through the bottom of the branch first and then cut it through from the top. By doing so you avoid stripping bark off the trunk under the weight of a falling branch.

You can prune most evergreens, late flowering shrubs and trees while they are dormant, but maples and birch perform best when pruned while in full leaf, so leave them until late spring. If you have doubts with regard to your ability, seek experienced assistance or call in an arborist.

When you prune permanent plants around your home, use quality tools to make the job as easy as possible and avoid injury. Check out my line up of cutting and pruning tools at Home Hardware. I torturetest every tool on my own 10-acre garden before it goes to market.


Mark Cullen is an expert gardener, author and broadcaster. Check out his new book The New Canadian Garden published by Dundurn Press. Follow him on Twitter @MarkCullen4 and on Facebook. Sign up for his free monthly newsletter at