Natural Pruning is Better

I have read about your natural pruning technique in previous columns. Is this something an average gardener could learn to do? Could you describe it for me?

I am often asked what is different about my natural pruning techniques. I have taught hundreds of students and gardeners how to prune naturally. The best way to learn is to practice.

The goal of natural pruning is to keep the natural shape and thickness of trees and shrubs while they are being reduced in size. Plants keep their natural look rather than being turned into thick, unnatural balls and boxes. Shrubs keep their foliage clear to the ground instead of developing a “chicken leg look”.

Natural pruning preserves the natural shape and density of plants. Each shrub has its own natural growth shape. Why make all shrubs look alike?

Natural pruning uses the following process:

1. Branches are pruned one at a time with hand pruners, loppers (with long handles – for larger branches), or a pruning saw. Pruning begins when shrubs are small, before they have outgrown their planting area and block windows or walkways. This may only require shortening one or two branches the first time.

2. Branches are cut inside or below the leaf surface where other smaller branches hide the stubs.

3. Instead of pruning branch tips, they are cut back to a side branch or removed entirely, keeping the same or reduced density of plant growth.

3. Lower branches are shortened less (or not at all) than upper branches, which keeps the shrub full and leafy clear to the ground. Upper branches should be shorter than lower ones to avoid shading lower branches.

4. Because many fewer branches are cut (especially after several prunings) the difference in pruning time becomes negligible (or sometimes even less over time).

5. The natural shape of the shrub is retained because branches are deliberately cut at different lengths

After you have made a few cuts, stand back and look at the whole plant to see if it is balanced. Remember, when you select a branch to prune, follow it down inside the plant and prune it just above a side branch. If the plant is growing too thickly because of previous shearing, follow some of the branches down to their origin and remove the whole branch.

I teach gardeners in the Vancouver area how to prune their own plants. We prune together going from shrub to shrub in their own yard. I explain why as well as how to make suitable pruning cuts, tailored to the specific needs of their shrubs and their landscape. As a result they feel more competent the next time they need to prune their shrubs. This service often only requires an hour or two. Send me an email if you would like to schedule an appointment.


Allen Wilson

Allen has been writing about gardening for over 30 years. He is a retired professor of Horticulture.

Scroll to top