Cut to keep small

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:
Dwarf crabapple.
Dwarf spruce.
Dwarf pine.

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

Have we given you assurance and confidence to prune? Please help us keep doing this work and documenting it for others. Sponsor us!

Dwarf crabapple

CrabB4_3596s.jpg CrabAftr3619s.jpg

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 collar.

CrabStubs3614s.jpg CrabStubs3613s.jpg

Dwarf blue spruce

 SpruceB4_3640cs.jpg SpruceB4wLine3640s.jpg



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.

Dwarf pine

PineB4wDashLin3664.jpg PineAftr3704cs.jpg

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!

PineLeanBrs3677s.jpg PineDensBrOut3658s.jpg

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.

PineInnrTipsRelsd3686s.jpg PinePrunInsetTips3686s.jpg

Bald cypress hedge

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 the Chicago Botanic Garden is an example.


BaldCypCBGN8411s.jpg BaldCyp2BCutN8413s.jpg

We test this stuff first!

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.