Making the Cut Benefits Plants

— Written By and last updated by
en Español

El inglés es el idioma de control de esta página. En la medida en que haya algún conflicto entre la traducción al inglés y la traducción, el inglés prevalece.

Al hacer clic en el enlace de traducción se activa un servicio de traducción gratuito para convertir la página al español. Al igual que con cualquier traducción por Internet, la conversión no es sensible al contexto y puede que no traduzca el texto en su significado original. NC State Extension no garantiza la exactitud del texto traducido. Por favor, tenga en cuenta que algunas aplicaciones y/o servicios pueden no funcionar como se espera cuando se traducen.

English is the controlling language of this page. To the extent there is any conflict between the English text and the translation, English controls.

Clicking on the translation link activates a free translation service to convert the page to Spanish. As with any Internet translation, the conversion is not context-sensitive and may not translate the text to its original meaning. NC State Extension does not guarantee the accuracy of the translated text. Please note that some applications and/or services may not function as expected when translated.

Collapse ▲

I saw a post on Facebook the other day of a groundhog exclaiming six more weeks of winter, but he held up an outstretched forearm following with “except you North Carolina, you are on your own!”  Most of you who are reading this know how unpredictable our weather can be. Saying that leads me to admit that spring is literally right around the corner. This time of the year can be busy if you haven’t finished the winter chores for your landscape. I am referring to pruning in particular. We are definitely near the end of the dormant season and, thereby, running out of time for proper pruning. It’s not too late yet, but I would encourage you to prune any of your deciduous trees and shrubs that need pruning as soon as possible. I would like to share some reasons pruning may be required.

Homeowners prune for many reasons. I have a philosophy of what I call 3-D pruning, which consists of pruning in response to damage, disease, and direction. Any time a plant is physically damaged by broken limbs – whether it is a shrub, tree, or vine – it opens the plant up for possible introductions to pathogens. A ragged, torn branch will never heal properly. Making a clean and smooth cut between the damage and the plant’s trunk can afford the plant the opportunity to heal and reduce the risk of disease introductions. However, this cut should be made along the outer edge of the branch collar, which is an enlarged area of a branch right next to the trunk. This pruning cut can be made anytime of the year, as soon as possible after the damage has occurred.

Another reason to prune out of season is disease control. Just like a doctor surgically removing a cancer, suspected plant diseases should be pruned as soon as possible after they have been discovered. Once pathogens enter into the plants’ vascular system, the pathogen will continue to spread, reducing the plants’ vigor and eventually killing the plants. Similar to the disease Fire Blight, you will need to prune well below any signs of symptoms. You need to realize that pathogens may be present in the stem further along than what the external symptoms show. You should also sanitize your pruners between each cut to prevent accidentally spreading the pathogens from an infected limb to the healthy tissue of another.

Direction refers to which way a limb or branch is growing. You can train the growth of a plant with directional pruning. Branches growing inward toward the center of a plant should be removed. Branches that are crossing other branches or crisscrossing should be eliminated. Opening or thinning the canopy increases natural ventilation and reduces disease pressure. Timely directional pruning eliminates removing hazardous overhanging branches later on. Pruning can be intimidating, but a proper pruning cut can increase the plants’ health and vigor.

More information on pruning can be found at the following links on the NC State Extension website:

General Pruning Techniques

Before the Cut

Training and Pruning Fruit Trees

For more information, contact Mack Johnson, Extension Horticultural Agent, at 910-671-3276, by email at, or visit our website.