Last updated on October 23rd, 2023 at 12:11 pm
When pruning conifers, you should always be careful, because pruning mistakes can stunt the growth of the trees. Here’s how you can best proceed.
Although they are otherwise considered very low-maintenance plants, there are some important things to keep in mind when pruning conifers. Conifers include spruces, pines and yews, for example. The growth of these trees has some peculiarities that you should keep in mind when you reach for the pruning shears:
- Fast growth: conifers grow very quickly and reach considerable heights after only a few years. That’s why they work well if you want to plant an opaque hedge. However, caring for fast-growing conifers includes regularly pruning them into shape so they don’t sprout.
- Only young branches will sprout new growth: When pruning conifers, be sure to keep in mind that only the very fresh shoots will continue to grow after a cut. If you prune older branches in the middle or in the lower part of the trees, this can quickly lead to holes that do not close again and severely impair the shape of the conifer.
- Tip: If you want to prune your conifers only as often as necessary and still maintain a natural shape, it’s best to plant only dwarf forms of the trees.
When can I prune conifers?
Most species of conifers should be pruned either before the first shoots in spring or in late summer. An exception is the pine, which is best pruned in May. In any case, it is important to choose a frost-free and preferably overcast day to cut conifers. Full sun can quickly dry out the branches that have been cut free.
Tips for cutting conifers
If you want to prevent your conifers from growing wild, you must prune them regularly and in good time. It is best to start pruning in the second or third year after planting – the tree will already be well established. Fast-growing conifers can be pruned twice a year, while slow-growing species can be pruned once a year. You should also keep the following tips in mind:
- Tools: Make sure you use well-sharpened scissors or electric hedge shears. This will help to prevent bruising at the cutting points. You should also clean your tools thoroughly before pruning.
- Cut only green shoots: When pruning conifers, you should only cut the fresh green shoots. Never cut into the wood of the tree, as this cannot grow back.
- Less is more: For a natural growth you should only remove disturbing new shoots. The more sparingly you cut the conifer, the better it can recover afterwards.
- Be careful with the top of the tree: You should only cut off the top of the conifer when the tree has reached the height you want. After the crown is cut, the height of the conifer will not change. Often a new central shoot is formed, which creates a new top.
- Subsequent care: After pruning, the conifer needs a lot of strength to re-form the removed shoots. Therefore, you should water the tree sufficiently immediately after pruning. You can also support its growth by mixing fertilizer, for example in the form of horn shavings, compost or primary rock flour, into the soil.
Care pruning and topiary of conifers
You can prune your conifers purely as a maintenance measure or to correct their shape. Depending on what you choose, there are different things to consider:
Trimming or pruning conifer trees and shrubs is an important practice to maintain their health, shape, and size. The timing for pruning conifers can vary depending on the specific type of conifer and the purpose of the pruning. Here are some general guidelines for when to trim your conifers:
1. Early Spring:
- Many conifer trees, such as pine and spruce, can be pruned in early spring before new growth begins. This is a suitable time to shape the tree, remove dead or damaged branches, and control its size. Pruning in early spring allows the tree to allocate resources to new growth during the growing season.
2. Late Winter:
- Some conifers, like junipers and yews, can be pruned in late winter before new growth starts. Late winter pruning is useful for these conifers as it helps to shape and maintain their size without interfering with the growing season.
3. Summer Pruning:
- If you need to perform light maintenance pruning, such as removing minor twig growth or shaping, you can do so in early to mid-summer. However, avoid pruning later in the summer as it may interfere with the tree’s ability to harden off for winter.
4. Avoid Late Fall Pruning:
- Pruning in late fall is generally discouraged because the tree is entering dormancy, and pruning can stimulate new growth that won’t have time to harden off before winter. This can make the tree more susceptible to winter damage.
5. Prune Dead or Diseased Branches Immediately:
- Regardless of the season, it’s essential to remove dead or diseased branches promptly. These branches can be pruned as soon as you notice them to prevent the spread of disease and maintain the tree’s health.
6. Prune Mature Trees Sparingly:
- Mature conifers generally require less pruning compared to younger trees. Light maintenance pruning to remove dead or overcrowded branches is typically sufficient for mature specimens.
7. Know the Specific Conifer Species:
- Different conifer species have their own preferences for pruning times. Some conifers, such as pines, can handle more aggressive pruning, while others, like junipers, prefer more gentle shaping.
8. Pruning Objectives:
- Consider the purpose of your pruning. If you want to encourage denser growth, it’s often best to trim in the spring or early summer. If you’re looking to thin the tree or maintain its shape, late winter or early spring may be preferable.
9. Local Climate:
- Take into account your local climate and weather patterns when deciding on pruning times. For instance, pruning too early in areas prone to late frosts can expose new growth to potential damage.
10. Follow Best Practices:
- When pruning conifers, use sharp, clean tools, and follow proper pruning techniques to minimize stress and damage to the tree. Avoid cutting too close to the main stem or leaving stubs, as this can hinder proper healing.
Always tailor your pruning schedule to the specific needs of your conifer and consider factors like its age, species, and the goals you want to achieve with pruning. Pruning at the right time and in the right way can help keep your conifers healthy, attractive, and well-maintained.