Pruning Definition

This page talks about Pruning Definition and how it applies to various plants to include tomatoes.

A vital part of any healthy garden is pruning and is a natural part of plant growth.  Although nature’s way looks a little different than someone holding pruning sheers, pruning occurs organically when dead limbs fall off trees or when animals or storms break stems or branches.   Pruning is a great way to improve the look of your garden, remove dead or decaying branches, improve the health or appearance of a plant, maintain plants and protect people and property.  Be sure do some research on the best pruning methods for your specific plant, tree or shrub before beginning.  Improper pruning can injure, stunt growth or leave the plant looking unhealthy or unattractive.

While pruning can technically be performed any time of year, recommendations for the best time vary by plant.  Pruning during the wrong season won’t kill the plant, but it may result in a weakened or damaged plant. 


For established, it’s best to prune in late winter or early spring when the tree is still dormant.  The worst time to prune for these types of trees is later in spring when new growth is forming.  The tree stored up quite a bit of energy to develop the new growth and it’s a good idea to wait until the tree has time to replenish this energy before removing any new, unwanted growth.  In the case of dead or decaying branches, it’s a good idea to remove those immediately for safety reasons.

When beginning pruning, start by removing all of the dead and diseased branches and stems first.  Stand back and check the effect.  This is frequently all you need to revitalize the look of your tress and shrubs.

To prune a vertical stem, less than one inch in diameter, simply cut off the desired piece at a 45 degree angle, just above the bud or branch at the desired height.  It’s important not to cut too close to the bud or branch so that it doesn’t dry out and die, but at the same time not leave too much extra left over, which will die and potentially cause problems for your tree.

When pruning the branch of a tree that is larger than one inch in diameter, it is important to make three cuts to keep the bark from tearing.  The bark protects it from disease and insects.  Make your first cut 6 to 12 inches from the collar.  (The collar is the area near the base of the branch where it connects to the tree.  It protects the tree from disease and helps the tree heal when branches die and fall away.) 

Cut first from the under side about 1/3 to ½ way through the branch.  Then, a little closer to the collar, make the second cut from the top side of the branch about 1/3 to ½ way through the branch.  Make your final cut all the way through the branch so that the cut is flush with the collar, leaving the collar intact.  If the branch is particularly heavy or there is the possibility of danger when it falls, use a rope to secure the branch and gently lower it to the ground.

When training young trees, be careful not to prune too much off the top initially.  While this may lead to bushier growth, it reduces the amount of energy the tree has for developing a healthy root system.  It is better to train your tree slowly, over time.  Tree branches can be left within 6 to 12 inches of the ground for trees that are to serve as screens or windbreaks, while trees near patios or streets usually have the lowest branches 7 or more feet above the ground.  Again, you want to prune the lower, undesired branches off slowly, over time.  If you strip a young tree of all of its lower branches right away, it won’t develop as healthy of a trunk.  It’s best to wait until the young branches reach at least 1 inch in diameter before cutting.

For mature trees, it’s best only to cut the branches that are at or near ground level.  Leave the higher branches for professionals and pruning those can be dangerous.


Like trees, shrubs are best pruning during late winter or early spring before the formation of new growth.  As with trees, begin by removing any dead or diseased branches and stems.  Then, you can do any thinning out or shaping.  Do not simply remove all the top growth of your shrubs in a flat or curved line.  You will lose the natural shape of the plant, growth will be less vigorous and it won’t have as many blooms.

Thinning is a great way to maintain shrubs, while keeping their natural shape.  To thin out your shrubs, it’s best to cut back branches and stems to their point of origin: either all the way down to the ground, or to the place where they connect to another branch.  It’s a good idea to stand back and walk around the tree from time to time to make sure you’re not over pruning in one area, leaving and unbalanced look to your shrub.


When you select a hedge plant from a nursery, choose one that is 1 to 2 feet tall, preferably with several branches.  After planting, cut it back to about 6 to 8 inches tall to encourage lower branches.  Late in the first year, prune back half of the new growth.  In year two, do the same: trim off half of the new growth.  In the third year, trim your hedge to the desired shape.  It will probably not be the final size yet. 

The shape of your hedge is important.  Flat-topped hedges collect more snow, which can be a problem.  Straight lines, such as triangles or squares require more pruning, while rounded shapes require less pruning and accumulate less snow. After the shrub has developed lower branches, it’s a good idea to prune your shrubs so that the base of the plant is wider than the top so that sunlight can easily reach all the leaves of the plant.

More on Pruning Definition


A favorite among home gardens, pruning is not required for tomatoes, but recommended.  In the case of tomatoes plants, you want to remove any dead or diseased sections, as with any other pruning job, first.  Next, you can remove some of the extra branches so that all of the leaves have access to sunlight.  You don’t want to over prune, but granting all leaves access to sunlight can encourage more tomatoes as the plant’s leaves won’t be competing with tomatoes.  Another important consideration in tomatoes is airflow.  Tomatoes need plenty of airflow to maintain healthy foliage.  Pruning can help ensure all the leaves have adequate airflow, which will help reduce the likelihood of disease.


Many herbs grow fine on their own, but some benefit from being cut back by about a third once they reach 6 to 8 inches.  This can encourage a bushier growth.  It is important to do some research first to determine whether or not this is necessary for the type of herbs you are growing.  Perennial herbs can be cut down to just a few inches above the soil every year in late fall as means of harvesting the entire plant.  They will regrow in spring.

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