Choose the right pruning tools to trim plants to a healthy size and keep the garden in top form
Keep your plants in shape by using the right tools for the job. Image: Thinkstock
Whether you take pride and pleasure in trimming topiary, or if pruning is just another garden chore, it’s still important to know what tools to use.
Pruners come in a variety of power and manual options to shape your plants and trees. From small bushy shrubs to thick tree branches, there is a tool for every cutting job.
How to prune for the best results
Regular pruning of bushes and shrubs can be the difference between a ragged, straggly garden and an attractive, lush outdoor living space.
Every bush has a characteristic shape and size, and for each there is a pruning technique to bring out its best and encourage flowering.
For optimum results, identify your bushes and learn about their needs.
CUT THE BRANCH TIP just beyond a new bud and the following year’s growth will be channelled into the side branches, creating a much fuller appearance.
This heading-off technique stimulates growth in the smaller side branches, creating new buds that will fill in vacant areas.
Keep track of the results to gauge how much branching you’ll need to do next year.
TIP This technique works best on bushes that grow mostly from single stalks, as opposed to ones that continually send up new shoots such as hydrangea and forsythia.
This technique works best on bushes that grow mostly from single stalks, as opposed to ones that continually send up new shoots
Lop unhealthy branches
For bushes and small trees, start by pruning off any dead or damaged branches. Not only do they look terrible, they encourage rot and disease to take hold.
Also cut out wilted, dry or diseased branches as soon as you spot them, as the infection or pest could spread to the rest of the tree.
Branches that rub against each other should be cut back, even if they seem relatively strong and healthy. The rubbing will wear away the bark and cause problems further down the track.
Low-hanging branches that stick out at an angle or cause an obstruction should also be removed in case they injure someone.
TIP When in doubt, cut it out, as pruning also thins out the bush, opening its interior to more light and air, which in turn encourages fuller, healthier growth.
Cut off dead, damaged or dangerous limbs as soon as you spot them
How to prune bushes that grow from canes
Bushes such as forsythia and hydrangea send up new canes from their roots every year. To control the bush height, the best method is to prune out the oldest wood.
Trim out newer canes to thin the interior of the plant, letting light in and helping to control its spread.
If it has become too large and is more trouble to bring under control than it’s worth, you can generally cut off all the canes and the roots will send up new shoots, giving you a neat new bush within a year or two.
Trim out newer canes to thin the interior of the plant, letting light in and helping to control its spread
Avoid pruning just the tips
Don’t be tempted to take shortcuts by simply trimming off the ends of a bush’s branches.
This flat-top haircut approach may look fine for a year or two, but it stimulates growth on the outermost branches, forces the bush to grow into an unnatural shape and fails to control size.
The bush will actually grow larger and become more difficult for you to bring back under control without it being ruined.
TIP This doesn’t apply to hedge-type bushes such as box or lilly pilly, which respond well to tip-pruning.
Cutting corners by flat-topping will create more work in the long run
Remove whole branches
Most bushes will eventually grow too large and dense if they are left to their own devices.
Within a year or two, a plant may become so overgrown that it will be impractical to prune back into shape, as there will simply be too much new growth crowding and competing for space.
If you are faced with this problem, it’s best to control size and shape by selectively pruning out a few whole branches, cutting them right back to the trunk.
This opens the plant to light and encourages healthy growth at the interior.
If a bush is overgrown it's best to control size by selectively pruning out a few whole branches, cutting them right back to the trunk
Unlike cane-type bushes, evergreens grow from their existing stems, developing a more permanent branch framework and needing less pruning.
If your landscaping was well planned, these bushes will grow to fit their spot with relatively little help. They’ll only need a light annual pruning to remove dead branches and control size and shape.
Evergreens grow from their existing stems, developing a more permanent branch framework and needing less pruning
Cut above the collar
Make cuts just above the collar, which is the slight bulge at the point where a branch joins the main trunk.
If left intact, this collar will grow over the cut, sealing off the wound and healing it. Make the cut square to the diameter, rather than diagonal, for the smallest wound.
TIP Don’t leave a stub on any of the limbs when pruning, as it’s likely to rot and become diseased.
Make cuts just above the collar, which is the slight bulge at the point where a branch joins the main trunk
BYPASS SECATEURS have a single curved blade that cuts with a scissor action along a wider hook. Ideal for small neat cuts.
ANVIL SECATEURS have a straight cutting blade. They are great for large branches, but less neat than bypass secateurs.
HEDGE SHEARS resemble oversized scissors and are good on thick foliage as well as small twigs. The perfect choice for shaping topiary.
HEDGE TRIMMERS are the powered version of hedge shears. They have a long, narrow blade that moves back and forth at high speed.
BYPASS LOPPERS have long arms for maximum grunt and cut with a bypass action. They can handle limbs up to 40mm in diameter.
POLE PRUNERS come in electric, petrol and battery models. Their extendable handles allow for easy access to higher branches
PRUNING SAWS have an ergonomic curved design and coarse-pitched teeth for easy push-pull action and a swift, clean cut.
BOWSAWS are great for cutting small to medium branches. Their blades have multi-serrated teeth to ensure quick cutting.