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Using Pruning Shears To Trim and Cut Bushes

Pruning is a tough job. It is something that makes a world of difference to your plants. And surely, you don't want Mother Nature to take over your garden or turn your outdoor space into a mini jungle! So pruning is an art that you have to master if you don’t want to end up damaging your precious perennials!

Proper pruning starts with the right tools - like a trusty pair of pruning shears - and knowing the different kinds of plants to prune. In traditional horticulture, three different types of plants are often pruned. These are bushes, shrubs, and hedges. How do these plants differ from each other, and how do you prune each one correctly? That’s what this guide is all about!

Types and Differences Between Bushes, Shrubs, and Hedges

trimming bushes and leaves

In traditional horticulture, bushes and shrubs are the same plants. However, bushes tend to be the wilder version of shrubs. Most gardeners consider low plants that grow in the garden as shrubs while similar plants that extend outside the garden as bushes.

Bushes: Bushes often grow with the foliage almost touching the ground. It’s a wild plant, so it’s not pruned often and grows intertwined with other bushes, grasses, and wild plants. Compared to shrubs, bushes have thinner, less woody foliage. Some of the most common types of bushes are:

  • Azaleas
  • Rhododendrons
  • Shrub Dogwoods
  • Rosemary
  • Roses

Shrubs: A shrub is a woody plant that grows at the height of fewer than 15 feet. Depending on the variety, a shrub can be deciduous or evergreen. This plant is taller than a bush and often pruned and shaped. Its foliage is thicker, the stems woodier than bushes, so shrubs are ideal for creating a formal shape or a topiary using pruning shears. Some of the most common types of shrubs are:

  • Hydrangeas
  • Holly
  • Yew
  • Burning Bush
  • Boxwoods

Hedges: hedges can be either bushes or shrubs grown together and pruned to create a natural barrier, a living fence, or boundary. Trees can be made into hedges too. Hedges work as privacy screens that add interest to the landscaping. It’s maintained by pruning the plants periodically. Some of the most common hedges of bushes are:

  • Emerald Arborvitae
  • Rose of Sharon
  • North Privet
  • Glossy Abelia
  • Japanese Euonymus

General Trimming Tips for Bushes, Shrubs, and Hedges

man trimming bushes

Whether you’re pruning bushes, shrubs, or hedges, it’s essential to keep some safe practices in mind. Wear protective gears when needed and hold off on aggressive pruning. Pruning should only be done on established plants otherwise, you might end up killing your precious perennials! Here are general pruning tips to help you out:

Step 1: Assess the Shape

Bushes and shrubs tend to growl wildly because they’re not often pruned, so don’t go into pruning with your ECOgardener pruner without a plan! You need to check if the foliage is dense enough to hold the shape and if the plants are worth pruning at all. Also, check for dead and damaged branches because you’ll start planning the shape from there.

Step 2: Use a Garden Pruner

cutting plants

The key to efficient pruning is using the right tools. You need a garden pruner that’s made specifically for the job, so you don’t end up hurting the plants. A pair of sharp pruning shears help make clean cuts on woody stems. Bushes have thinner, less woody stems than shrubs but don’t use a hand pruner. You need a sizable pruner to trim the bushes.

A hand pruner has too-short handles that add more pressure to the hands and arms. Pruning hedges with this tool will be unbearable. A lopper is not a great choice because this tool is not made for quick, continuous pruning. It will be hard to control the tool because the handles are too long.

Step 3: Keep the Base Wide

As you prune, let the blade do all the work. Start along the top and sides, then step back once in a while to check the shape. Keep the bushes’ base wider than the top. Be mindful of how many inches of foliage you’re trimming because you don’t want to end up trimming too aggressively and killing the bushes.

Step 4: Remember the 4 D’s

When you’re pruning shrubs, bushes, and hedges, it’s essential to keep the 4 D’s in mind: dead, damaged, diseased, and deranged branches. Dead and diseased branches will spread pests and diseases, while damaged branches and deranged branches will affect the health of the plants. Start pruning these first to prevent the spread of diseases. As you do, the foliage of the plants becomes thinner, and you’ll have an easier time shaping the plant. Regular pruning opens the interior of the plants to air, water, and light, all of which help encourage fuller, healthier growth.

Step 5: Final Prep

After pruning, it’s a good idea to add organic fertilizers to promote healthy regrowth. This goes especially for out-of-control bushes and shrubs that went through drastic pruning. If you’re pruning diseased plants, don’t forget to lay a tarp first and put all the clippings on it. This will prevent the cut branches from spreading the disease all over the garden. Finally, keep your pruning shears clean after each use to prevent corrosion!

Trimming Hedges

trimming hedges
  • When trimming hedges, keep the pruning at the top slightly narrower than the bottom. This will help the bottom branches to fill in properly. If the top is wider than the bottom, it will shade the bottom part of the plant, and it won’t maintain a uniform shape.
  • To maintain the formal shape of the hedges, you’ll have to prune frequently - about two times per season or more. Keep your garden pruner sharp to make pruning easier and quicker.
  • Overgrown hedges might need more than frequent pruning - these might need replanting or cutting back more stems. Use heavy duty pruning shears for this gardening task.

Trimming Shrubs

  • Of the three plants that require pruning, shrubs require the least pruning because they can hold their shape longer.
  • It’s best to trim shrubs according to their natural shape unless creating a topiary.
  • If going for the natural look, pruning procedures for shrubs depend on the variety, degree of maturity, and the desired shape.
  • When trimming shrubs, keep the crown open to allow more light to penetrate. This gives the plants bigger, greener leaves throughout the entire branches, not just the ends.
  • If the shrub has gotten too big and out of control, try cutting off all the canes. The roots will send up new shoots.

Trimming Bushes

trimming bushes
  • If the bushes are growing in the front yard, trim in a straight line to improve your property’s curb appeal. You can use stakes and strings as a guide to pruning a uniform shape. You can also use a level to position the strings to create clean lines.
  • Oldwood bushes generate buds the year before they flower so do not prune before blooming. Pruning should be done after flowering.
  • New wood bushes produce flowers on new growths. It’s best to prune new wood bushes in the cold months - during winter or early spring - to encourage new growth and plenty of blooms.
  • For overgrown and multi-stem bushes, these might need drastic pruning. Cut the out-of-control branches back in the early spring. Keep the cutting heights between two to four feet from the ground to maintain a more natural shape.

When it comes to pruning, always keep in mind that new growths are produced in the direction of the remaining bud point. Don’t wait until the plant is out of control before doing the pruning because aggressive pruning will take a toll on the plant’s health.

Having the right tools is equally important for efficient pruning and a healthy garden. If you’re on the market for a dependable pair of pruning shears, we highly suggest checking out our newest product, the ECOgardener garden pruner.

Order yours today via our online store!

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