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A flower sitting with a group of dark rocks, bamboo, grass and the LawnZenGarden logo. A flower sitting with a group of dark rocks, bamboo, grass and the LawnZenGarden logo.

HOMELawn Care Articles

by Carole Schwalm Looking up at the decorative bushes in containers and pruned in a circular pattern along the side of a outdoor stairwell.

Seeking harmony between man and nature. Enjoying creativity, contemplating shape, and helping them grow.

A part of Zen Buddhist principles when applied to bonsai relates to creating something natural, simple and asymmetrical while concentrating on what is most essential. The bonsai is a miniature tree. In the art bonsai, one is sensitive to the tree’s needs and concerned with where and how is it trying to grow as well and all can be applied to the pruning you do in your own yard.

A single bush next to a decorative door. Imagine! Or even better, why not go out into the yard and look at a tree or shrub. Trees and shrubs have a trunk or spinal column as their main support structure. The trunk needs to receive sunlight and does so through the ‘windows’ of opportunity called branches. Is the sun hitting the tree trunk now? What is happening a few hours later? Besides sunlight, the tree or shrub also needs air circulation. As you observe: Are there branches that look like they do not belong?

Analyze your tree or shrub from all angles. Is it pleasing to the eye when it comes to balance and proportion? For example, if it has a heavy branch on one side, it needs something on the other side to balance. Depending on type, your plant should taper up gracefully (think triangle shape).

You’ve communed with your tree or shrub (don’t you already feel the Zen!) and you are ready to prune so your plant can begin to concentrate on leaves, rather than just on roots. Pruning from the top encourages branching further down. In bonsai, branches shouldn’t cross each other. Remove one of the pair, again allowing both sunlight and air circulation, and better growth.

A flower peaking through an iron gate Root suckers are sucking the life out of your plant as we speak. Remove them because they aren’t nice little new trees coming up. Remove damaged, diseased or old wood also stealing life from your plant. Cut one inch below the part that is alive and green and then apply first aid or antiseptic tree-wound paint.

Never prune a sick tree. It has enough problems going on in its life. And do not butcher a tree. It will not only look sick, it probably will get that way. The advice is to never cut more than ¼ or ⅓ of the tree per year.


More trees are killed by improper pruning than killed by pests. One of the main perpetrators of tree mortality: pruning with tool blades that are not sharp. The cuts are not clean and smooth, instead they fray or splinter. The antidote is: buy easy to sharpen shears, and then take care of them. The mantra is: may they cut like a knife through butter.

A grouping of neatly pruned bushes Another mistake is to try to cut a two inch diameter branch, for example, with a tool designed for a much smaller cut. Use a lopper for branches from ½ to two inches. Some loppers also have telescoping handles for higher branches. Use a saw if the branch is bigger than two inches. (This is called using the right tool for the job). Use bypass shears for one inch cuttings and tight cutting areas. The bypass shears get close to the stems, and that means healthier plants.

There are three types of specifications: "anvil action," scissors action," and "bypass cutting." Anvil action involves a sharp blade that cuts against a flat blade. A scissors action involves two sharp blades. Bypass cutting action moves one sharp blade against a stationary blade, somewhat similar to anvil action. All types are quite effective.

Landscapers buy the best and most durable pruners in order to save both money and time. Neither they, nor you, want to make a yearly pruning investment. Look for tools with replaceable parts.

Share your plant pruning experience or if you'd like more information.