Pruning and trimming: What’s the difference?

The main difference between pruning and trimming is when they are applicable. Trimming refers to the method of cutting the branches of overgrown trees, shrubs, or hedges to achieve a specific shape or size. On the other hand, pruning refers to the method of cutting off trees’ diseased, dead, loose, or unhealthy branches. Read on to know more about these garden maintenance methods.

The benefits of pruning and trimming

a gardener pruning a tree

Trimming is not only done to make an overgrown tree or plant look good but also to keep it healthy. Trimming is preventative care. It helps reduce the risk of pest infestation and disease. Moreover, it prevents overgrown branches from falling and causing property damage or human injury.

a gardener pruning an apple tree

Now, what is pruning? Though a different process, pruning a tree also keeps it healthy, as cutting off particular branches stops diseases from spreading and affecting other tree parts. Once the diseased branches are removed, the trees or plants won’t waste the nutrients they receive from the earth. This results in healthier trees or plants. Structural pruning will also help young plants need less corrective pruning as they mature.

In essence, plants and trees that are properly maintained grow lush foliage. Proper maintenance also keeps them resilient to damage.

See also: How to prune an apple tree correctly

When should you prune trees?

a woman pruning a tree

When is the best time to prune trees? The frequency of pruning depends on the plant species. Try pruning your spring-flowering trees in late May, immediately after their blooming period. Summer flowering trees, on the other hand, can be pruned during winter or spring. 

What tools are needed to prune trees?

gardening tools on a table

When cutting diseased branches, you will most likely need hand or lopping shears. Shears are usually tough enough to cut through thin, diseased branches. For trees with thicker branches, you might need a saw, particularly an electric one. You can get extendable saws for trees with hard-to-reach branches.

What should you put on trees after pruning them? 

a tree trunk with a fresh pruning cut

Research shows that pruning ‘paint’ isn’t ideal, as it encourages insect infestation and the growth of rot organisms. Instead of protecting tree wounds from these issues, pruning paint or dressings seal in moisture and decay. Basically, they don’t promote or accelerate healing. 

So what should you do? It’s good to just let the wounds heal on their own, especially if the trees or shrubs have been pruned properly. Monitor the trees as well. That way, if the wounds don’t heal on their own, you can immediately consult a tree surgeon or certified arborist.

When should you trim shrubs, hedges, or trees?

a gardener trimming a hedge

The best time to trim shrubs or hedges depends on their appearance, not their health or flowering cycles. Hedges, for instance, should be trimmed before the excess branches grow and reach 12 inches.

For trees, in general, the best time for trimming is winter (November to March), when they are mostly dormant. During dormancy, trees are less susceptible to insect infestation or disease. Trees also heal faster during this time, so when spring arrives, they are ready to healthily bloom again.

See also: How to prune hedges: a step-by-step guide

Tips for trimming plants 

Firstly, always use the right tool for trimming to ensure effective cutting and safety from probable injury. Don’t forget to keep the blades of your tools sharp and clean as well. Keep them in good condition by applying oil to prevent rusting. If your plants have diseased branches, try spraying your tools with an organic disinfectant. This prevents disease transmission.

a gardener cutting a small branch

Secondly, always cut above a bud, but maintain a distance of ¼ of the stem’s thickness. This is to avoid damaging the bud. If you cut too far above it, you might trap water in the stub and cause rot. Cut at an angle of 45 degrees to minimise surplus tissue, which might decay as well.

Finally, cut according to how you can improve air circulation in the centre part of the plant. This helps it dry out unwanted moisture (especially after heavy rain), preventing the growth of mould, fungi, and bacteria.

Practise proper pruning and trimming

a man trimming a small tree

See also: How to prune roses the right way


Overall, trees and plants are like humans in that some TLC helps them look good and stay healthy. Both pruning and trimming result in a better-looking garden and a healthier landscape. Nonetheless, remember that doing them incorrectly might cause more harm than good. If you want to give your trees or plants the best treatment, consider booking a Tasker for your pruning and trimming needs.

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