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Common pruning mistakes

Published on July 31st 2021
A close up of a flower
Winter pruning done correctly maintains and improves the long-term health and beauty of a tree or shrub and will create a burst of vigorous new growth, in all the right places, come spring.
On the other hand, improper pruning or pruning at the wrong time of the year can result in damaged plants, reduced flowering and increased susceptibility to infection by insects or diseases. So, before putting on those pruning gloves, here are a few common pruning mistakes and how to avoid them.
A bird perched on a tree branch

1. Topping

Topping is practically a swear word in the Arboricultural world as it is seriously detrimental to tree health and beauty. Topping is the indiscriminate removal of primary branches from the tops of mature trees. This removes a large percentage of the crown and sends the tree into repair shock mode, causing dormant buds to activate and rapidly send out multiple lateral shoots in an attempt to replace the leader branch.
With most of the crown removed and large open wounds, the tree becomes food-stressed, highly exposed to heat and light, and susceptible to insect and disease infestation.
Topping destroys the natural shape of a tree and often leaves the tree looking disfigured and mutilated, never to fully regain its natural form.
Here's a post by @coordinatingconcepts2 for an example of this bad pruning practice.


Our local authority employed a "contractor" to "trim" the sidewalk trees in our leafy suburb. Butcher I think is more the operative word.😢😤😠

Instead of topping the tree to reduce its size, cut higher branches back to lateral branches, that have a size of least one-third of the diameter of the limbs being removed, to preserve the tree’s natural form.
A large tree

2. Shearing

Impatience is the enemy of pruning. Giving your trees or shrubs one big chop in a straight line can damage the plant and may take years to restore.
Shearing also results in unattractive water-sprout regrowth that needs to be re-sheared frequently to keep the plant looking tidy, whereas selectively pruned plants need pruning less often.
Each branch is different and serves a different purpose. There are main branches, lateral branches, old wood, young wood, inner branches and outer branches. Learn the difference between them and prune selectively.

3. Improper cuts

A common mistake when removing branches is cutting it off too close to the main trunk, referred to as a ‘flush cut’. Cutting too close to the trunk removes the branch collar*, an area of tissue with specialised cells that aid in wound healing and protection against disease.
*The branch collar is a small swelling right where the branch meets the trunk.
Instead of cutting flush to the trunk, leave intact the branch bark ridge and collar where the branch meets the trunk to allow for effective wound healing and disease prevention.
A drawing of a person

4. Leaving stubs

Making a ‘stub cut’ means not pruning to the branch collar, leaving the pruned branch projecting above a bud. This leaves the tree with a partially amputated limb that won’t heal properly and leaves the plant exposed to infection.
Prune back to a healthy limb or stem to avoid leaving a stubbed end.

5. Blunt blades

Using clean and sharp tools are essential to making good, clean pruning cuts. Dull blades, or stiff loose and rusty moving parts can lead to ugly, ragged cut edges, the spread of disease, and even injury of the user.
Properly repair or replace blunt or broken pruning tools. For more tips on caring for your tools tap the article below.
A small bird perched on a tree branch

For more pruning advice, dig into the articles below!

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