Expert Tips for Summer Pruning

Summer pruning tames your overgrown landscape and increases curb appeal. Here are tips on when and how to make the kindest summer cuts.

Wait for moderate outdoor temperatures before pruning. Droughts and heat waves can stress plants and trees. Image: David W. Dellinger

When it comes to summing pruning, one method does not fit all. Each plant and tree species has its own pruning requirements, timing, and technique.

Many plants prefer to be pruned during the spring and fall, when temps are cool and there’s plenty of moisture in the soil.

But there are times when you’ve just got to prune in summer.

Jennifer Maxon, a California landscaper, says these situations beg for a good summer pruning:

  • Hedges grow tall and look ragged.
  • Landscaping grows too close to the house, which could cause damage in high winds and channel moisture to your siding
  • Bushy shrubs and trees block sunlight and/or your view.

Pruning how-tos

Here are tips on how to prune in summer, courtesy of Nell Foster, an expert gardener and horticulturalist.

  • Don’t prune during drought and heat waves, which stress trees and shrubs. Wait until temperatures moderate.
  • Never prune in rain, which makes you a human lighting rod. Let landscaping dry out for 48 hours before pruning to avoid fungal diseases.
  • Remove cross branches that close off and encourage disease in shrubs and fruit trees.
  • Always prune dead or diseased limbs and branches. Dispose of diseased limbs in plastic bags.
  • Deadheading many perennials will give you a continuous or second bloom.
  • When pruning weeping trees, vary the length of cuts — some longer, some shorter — which creates a feathered and natural look.
  • Always use clean landscape tools. When removing diseased branches, scrub tools and dip into bleach before pruning healthy landscaping.

Tools of the trade

Look for tools with replaceable blades and handles. Most importantly, make sure the tool feels good in your hand and doesn’t pinch your skin when you cut.

Here are must-have pruning tools:

  • Snips: Small shears for deadheading perennials ($15).
  • Pruning shears: Hand shears for taming roses and grooming small branches on shrubs ($10-$60).
  • Looping shears: Have short, thick blades and long handles, for cutting thicker branches ($40-$90).
  • Hedge trimmers: Manual ($50), gas ($150-$350), and electric ($50-$100).
  • Pruning saw: Bowed saw for cutting branches ($20); some have extendable handles for reaching high branches ($50).

Good advice

In general, each plant has its own particular pruning requirements. Before you prune, consult a reputable landscaper’s manual, such as The American Horticultural Society Pruning & Training ($70) and The Pruning of Trees, Shrubs, and Conifers ($20) by Timber Press.