This is the time of year when it’s best to prune your evergreen trees and shrubs. I’m not suggesting that you must prune them just because it’s June/July. Prune them only if they need it. As with any pruning, evergreen pruning, whether needled conifers or broadleaf plants, should be undertaken for a specific purpose. That may be to shape or thin the plant, to remove broken branches, to reduce its size or raise its crown by removing the lower limbs.
This timeframe is when the new growth is finishing its maturation process. New growth is the lighter green foliage at the ends of the branches. That new growth is also softer to the touch and the new wood has yet to harden. Soon, the new growth will darken and be indistinguishable from previous years’ growth. The buds for next year’s new growth will begin forming in late summer or early fall so it’s best to do any pruning before those buds appear.
Shaping taxus (yew) borders or foundation plantings is probably an annual ritual. If you’re just removing the new growth, don’t wait until the it matures. It’s much easier to prune when the new growth has finished growing but before it matures (turns color). The soft wood cuts easily and cleanly, and the color differentiation is a good guide for shaping. Don’t prune too early, though, or the new growth will grow right back, and you’ll have to repeat the job.
Broadleaf evergreens like rhododendrons and boxwoods should also be pruned now. They, too, put on new growth in early spring and are ready for pruning right now. Pruning broadleaf evergreens should follow the same procedures as pruning deciduous shrubs. Prune only at a fork. In the case of tight plants like boxwood, cuts can be made just above a leaf’s attachment to the branch. Cuts on looser plants like rhododendrons should be made at a branch fork or at the base of the offending branch. If you can see a branch collar, leave it rather than cutting flush to the stem or bigger branch. Don’t leave stubs.
Shrubs look better when they have a natural shape, rather than the tight geometrical shapes that result from shearing. Also, shearing may leave ragged cuts because branches may be too big around for hedge shears to make a clean cut. Save your shearing for such broadleaf evergreens as boxwoods. Boxwood branches are smaller so hedge shears will leave cleaner cuts.
Please wear eye protection, no matter what size evergreen you’re pruning. If you’re pruning overhead, wear a hard hat. And, if you are using power tools, wear ear protection, too.
Notice that I’ve only advised pruning evergreen shrubs. Pruning a large pine, spruce or other conifer tree can be dangerous in several ways. You’ll, most likely, need to leave the ground to reach the upper branches. The tight, springy branching adds to the difficulty of working in and around these trees. The needles are sharp, especially if they fall on you, or whip around and hit you. And each cut lets more messy sap ooze out and get all over you. That’s why the pruning of conifers is best left to our professional arborists who have the knowledge, experience and specialized equipment to do the job safely and efficiently.
Our arborists don’t just lend their expertise to pruning trees. They’d be happy to prune your shrubs as well, so all you have to do is enjoy your nicely manicured landscape.