Rich's Foxwillow Pines Nursery, Inc

Rich's Foxwillow Pines Nursery, Inc


Advice & How To's

Pruning Evergreens

from American Conifer Society's pamphlet 'A Brief Look at Garden Conifers'

It is easy to say that the natural growth pattern of a normal or dwarf evergreen is a large part of its charm. When its charm gets out of hand by getting too large for an assigned space, then either the wrong plant was selected or the proper pruning was not maintained. At this point the choice is pruning, moving, or removal and often removal is easiest. Some evergreens can be severely pruned and others cannot. In any event, severe pruning will destroy the natural charm, although some evergreens can recover over time.


Easiest to control are Yews and Hemlocks. Both have abundant buds on both old and new wood that develop into twigs when the cut is above. Thus, they can be sheared heavily and not permanently harmed, so they can be used as hedges. The leaves tolerate some shade so they grow well on the inside of the plant and hence the plant can be made dense by shearing or pruning. Pruning just before the new spring growth allows the pruning cuts to be covered with new growth very rapidly to get away from the 'just sheared look'.

Next easiest to control are the Firs, Cedars, Spruce, and Douglas fir. These have easily identified buds along the current season's growth and sometimes on the stem of the previous year's growth. Size can be controlled at any time by pruning back to a bud. For a formal shape, they can be pruned or sheared when the current season's growth is soft. Their leaves are also somewhat shade tolerant so pruning or shearing has the potential for making a dense plant.

More care must be taken with Pines. When pruning Pines, one must be aware of their lack of buds along the stem and that buds are only at the tip of current season's growth. Thus, pruning at most times of the year must be done carefully or shape will be lost. The time to prune Pines is in the spring. When growth is soft a candle can be cut or pinched before the needles are fully elongated, and buds will develop from needle fascicles below the cut. Spring pruning or 'candling' will produce a compact plant. By careful early spring pruning, one could almost maintain the size forever.

The most difficult to prune and control their size are the Junipers, Arborvitae, and Falsecypress (Chamaecyparis). In this group, buds are present only where there are green leaves; a branch cut back to a non-leafy region will not form new foliage. Thus cutting or shearing to the brown inner part results in an unsightly scar that may not be recovered for many years, if ever. The naked or brown interior is the result of the fact that this group's foliage is intolerant of shade and therefore the interior leaves die. If they are sheared, it should be done with care and only when they are actively growing in the spring. This group of plants ends up being a thin 'shell' of green growth over a zone of twigs and limbs with no leaves and no potential for development of buds. Care must be taken not to open this thin 'shell' during pruning.