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How to trim conifers and shrubs

Updated November 21, 2016

Conifers and shrubs need regular pruning. Pruning or trimming helps keep the plants healthy and looking their best. It will also keep the conifer or shrub at a size that fits its space. The best time to prune your conifers is in the early spring. Prune flowering shrubs as soon as they flower. This will reduce the chance of damage to any newly emerged buds. Always clean your pruning tools when beginning a new plant. You don't want to pass bacteria or disease between your conifers and shrubs.

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Trim conifers

  1. Look over the conifer for any dead or diseased branches. Use hand pruning shears to cut any low branches or use pole pruners for any high branches. Burn any diseased materials immediately. Leaving the branches lying around could cause the disease to spread to other plants.

  2. Decide how much of the tree you want or need to trim. Trim only on the part of the branch that has green needles. A conifer tree as a rule will have needles only on the outer parts of the branches. If you trim beyond the needles, the entire branch will die.

  3. Cut back long or straggly twigs to the branch or bud with a pair of bonsai cutters. Never cut the needles of a conifer in half. This will result in brown-tipped needles.

  4. Snap any growing buds in half on branches where you wish to control growth. This will reduce the final length of the branch, making it easier to trim in the future.

Prune shrubs

  1. Look over the shrub for any dead or diseased branches. Use hand pruning shears to cut the branches. Burn any diseased materials immediately.

  2. Look for branches growing in an odd direction or sticking out from the regular shape of the shrub. Cut these growths with a pair of hand pruning shears. Cut the branch at a bud that faces the direction you wish for new growth.

  3. Pinch off any new and unwanted green growth with your fingers. Do this at a regular pruning of the shrub or any time you see an unwanted growth. Do not do this to woody branches, only to soft green growth.

  4. Tip

    If you plan to shape your shrub or conifer, follow the natural shape of the plant. Look at the bushiest part of the conifer or shrub and remove the twigs and branches that do not belong.


    Never prune any plant when it is raining or if the plant is wet. This will increase the chance of your plant picking up a disease.

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About the Author

Amy Shelleby
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