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Mastering the Art of Pruning Conifers: Tips and Techniques

Pruning conifers is an art and science because it takes a discerning eye for detail to chop off the right branches to achieve the desired result. And from a scientific perspective, pruning a conifer takes skill to know where, when, and how to cut branches to encourage growth and keep the evergreen tree healthy.

pruning conifers and achieve beautiful results

But the good news is that you don’t have to be a scientist or artist to prune conifers successfully. All you need are the three “Ts” of pruning — Tools, Timing, and Technique. With these, you can master the art of pruning conifers and achieve beautiful results that will last for years.

According to experts, pruning conifers is necessary for at least three reasons:

·        1/ Tree health: You can remove dead or diseased portions of trees to prevent any decay from spreading further.

·        2/ Safety: Pruning branches can stop the tree from encroaching on buildings or power-lines. And after a storm, some branches may be ready to drop.

·        3/ Aesthetics: Shearing off certain branches can improve the tree’s shape and appearance. And if topiary is your thing, pruning evergreen conifers lets you create interesting shapes in your front or backyard. 

Whether you’re a beginner or an experienced gardener, this guide will give you all the tips and advice you need to tackle any pruning project confidently. You will learn the three Ts of pruning. Timing — when to prune conifers, Tools — the equipment you need, and Technique — how to prune conifers. 

And as a bonus, we will throw in a fourth T for free — Top tips to prune conifers for achieving the best results. 

Read on to discover how to successfully prune your conifers and make them stand out in your garden.

Timing — When to Prune Conifers

Timing is everything when it comes to pruning conifers. Generally, the best time to prune conifers is late winter or early spring. During this time, conifer growth is dormant, and you minimize the risk of shocking the tree. In addition, pruning during the tree’s dormancy gives it time to recover before vigorous growth resumes in late spring.

However, there are several other reasons why pruning conifers in late winter or early spring is best.

Remember, it’s not just trees that are dormant in winter. Disease-carrying bugs are also inactive, and there is less chance of them damaging trees. If you prune at the wrong time, bugs that can affect conifer growth include aphids, caterpillars, spider mites, and bark beetles.  

Pruning conifers in winter is also advisable because there is less risk of fungal infections. 

What happens if you prune conifers at other times of the year? Like humans, cutting the tree causes a wound that needs to heal. Open wounds in humans or trees are susceptible to bacterial infections. Therefore, pruning during dormancy allows conifers to heal faster and protects wounds from pathogens and destructive insects. 

What about trimming needle leaves from conifers? You can do this in late summer and early fall, taking care not to damage branches. Conifers typically shed their needles during this time.

Tools — Equipment Needed for Pruning Conifers

Like any work in the yard, the right tools are crucial if you want to do a proper job. The tools for pruning conifers include pruning shears (secateurs or bypass pruners), a lopper, and a pruning saw for pruning tall conifers.

Lady Using Pruning Shears trimming Conifers

Here are descriptions of conifer pruning tools and what they do:

·        Pruning shears: Also called bypass pruners or secateurs, these handheld tools are ideal for cutting small branches, woody stems, and twigs up to 0.5” in diameter. Bypass pruners have two blades that cut like scissors, whereas the blade on anvil-type sheers cuts against a fixed plate.

·        Loper: This pruning tool looks like shears with long handles. A lopper is ideal for pruning conifer branches between 0.5” and 1” thick. The extra-long handles give you better leverage.

·        Pruning saw: A pruning saw is essential for annual conifer pruning to slice through thicker branches more than 1” thick. Depending on the saw, the blade could be curved or straight. Pruning saws with straight blades are best for cutting between waist and shoulder height. Curved blades are best for cutting branches below the waist or above head height.

For pruning tall conifers, you may need a pole saw or a pole pruner saw to complete the job.

When shopping for tools, be sure to look for quality materials and construction — cheaper options may not last as long and may not make clean, smooth cuts.

Finally, don’t forget safety equipment. Eye protection and gloves will help protect you from injury while working on your plants. With the right tools, you’ll be ready to tackle any pruning project confidently.

Top tip for pruning conifers: Always remember to disinfect your pruning shears or saw before and after each use to prevent the spread of disease.

Technique – How to Prune Conifers

Before loping off branches from conifers in your yard, it’s vital to understand a basic rule about conifer pruning — there must be a reason. Unlike broadleaf trees, pruning conifers is done to strengthen the tree structure, adjust the spacing of lateral branches, or prevent any branches from growing into the center leader.

Pruning conifers only improves their form, controls size, or removes dead or weak limbs.

Here are the best conifer tree pruning techniques.

First, always begin by removing dead or diseased limbs. Also, take note of any weak branches or ones that look ready to break. 

Second, identify branches for removal. For example, you could remove branches to increase airflow in the foliage. And you should remove branches growing at angles. However, remember that a branch won’t grow back once it’s been removed. 

Top tip for pruning conifers: Avoid cutting the branch collar. This is the raised part of the bark at the branch base.

Techniques to Cut Conifer Branches

Man trimming conifer hedge with trimmer

To ensure the best results, here are the proper techniques to remove branches from conifers:

·        Cut conifer branches at a 45° to 60° angle.

·        When removing larger branches, leave 6” to 12” away from the branch collar.  

·        Before removing the branch, make a 1” cut on the underside of the branch 1” away from where the main cut will be. 

·        Then cut through the branch. The incision in the previous step will prevent the branch’s weight from ripping the collar.

Remember only to remove limbs if necessary. Any brown conifer growth that is removed will not grow back.

Finally, don’t forget to clean up any debris after you’ve finished pruning. This will prevent disease-causing organisms from lingering around your trees. 

Tips for Pruning Conifers

Pruning conifers can be tricky if you don’t know what you’re doing. Unfortunately, some gardeners chop off too many branches and foliage, only to realize that conifers don’t survive severe pruning.

Here are some of the best tips for pruning conifers that will help make sure your cuts heal quickly and correctly:

·        Always use sharp tools when pruning conifers. This will prevent unnecessary damage to the branches.

·        Start by making small cuts when pruning conifer branches.

·        Avoid cutting too close to the branch to avoid damaging the branch collar.

·        Only remove branches when necessary, as woody conifer stems won’t grow back.

·        Always remember safety. Pruning involves using sharp tools that can cause severe damage if used inappropriately. Therefore, wear gloves, protective gear, and eye protection. 

·        Take extra care when working above head height or on ladders. 

Pruning Conifers — In Conclusion

Pruning conifers is an art and skill that takes practice. To ensure you get the best results, only prune branches when necessary and use sharp tools. After removing branches and foliage, clean up debris to prevent disease-causing organisms from affecting your trees. 

However, with practice and using the three-conifer pruning “Ts” — Timing, Tools, and Techniques — you can soon become a master of the art and science of conifer pruning.