Most of us grow shrubs and trees that we can't allow to become
as large as they can be. The best times to prune to restrict the
size of those plants is after a year's growth is set but before the
next spring's budbreak. We do most restriction pruning in August
and early September. What we can't do then we cut during in winter
thaws, late March and early April.
Examples here are all "dwarf" plants, as a reminder that dwarf
does not mean tiny in human terms, only that the plant is smaller
than its species norm:
You will probably need to look close at these before-afters.
That's because if you do this pruning every year you should
not see a shocking change.
Other examples: We have photographed and posted lots of
restriction pruning on this site. Reduce a spruce, Dwarfs cut
to size, Steven prunes falsecypress,
Crabapple shaped and
reduced, Prune to keep a tree
small are recent typical entries but there is much more.
Please use our Search box: Type in the plant name and the word
prune, or cut, or reduce.
Big trees small
Can you keep big trees small?
Sure, but keep in mind that you need big ladders, and if you
hire an arborist you will need to direct the work because this is
not standard pruning, and both size and beauty are
subjective. Check out What's
Coming Up 4 where we use a 16' ladder to take 6 feet off a
spruce and crabapple...) And take a look
here at Chicago Botanic Garden's bald cypress (Taxodium
distichum) hedge pruning...
We're your testers
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We took off the vertical growth; a few flower buds came off with
it but the majority remain.
Whenever you prune, safeguard the plant's health. Use clean
sharp blades and preserve the branch bark
Dwarf blue spruce
This dwarf blue spruce has been kept in check for years so it
didn't need drastic pruning. Is your dwarf spruce much too
big to begin with? Look here to see how to cut back a
dwarf spruce that was allowed to become overgrown.
Below, left: This pine had been candled for a decade. That
is, all new growth was pinched while it was still soft, so branches
that would be eight inches would only be two inches. That makes a
plant more dense but it doesn't keep it small. It still increased
by two inches every year, and that adds up. It made it so dense
that no light could penetrate to the interior. The only place
foliage could stay alive was at the tips...
Below, right: We took out whole branches!
We cut whole branches back to side branches, allowing light into
the middle of the plant. That's the only way to keep tips 'way back
on a branch alive so they can grow from the interior branches out
to the edge. They become replacement branches for what must be cut
out once it extends too far.
We didn't make up this pruning stuff we show you. We keep an eye
peeled for pruning done by people in the know. We've watched a lot
of plants that others prune, noting how to, when and how the plants
handle it. This bald cypress hedge (Taxodium distichum) at
Botanic Garden is an example.
We test this stuff
We don't tell you to do it unless we know it works and the
plants can remain healthy. (We are also prejudiced in favor of
practical techniques; if it's not something the average
gardener should tackle, we say that if we mention or show it.) Some
we've watched for decades. Others we don't need to watch for so
long to be sure of impact because the plants are already very old
and have been treated this way a long time. Many we use as our
learning examples are over 100 years old.