How to Trim Evergreen Trees

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Keep your evergreen trees in good shape by pruning them properly!

Many evergreen trees are excellent choices if you want year-round colour and privacy in your garden. Some evergreens can get really big though, so it’s a good idea to figure out if and when you’ll need to trim them.

Evergreen trees can grow fast, which could cause problems with neighbours. You could end up with a very dark, shady backyard if your trees start blocking out all the light. And if you have evergreen trees growing close to the house, you might find that light is getting blocked out from your rooms too.

If you’ve wondered about how to trim evergreen trees, we’ve got it covered for you here.

How to Trim Evergreen Trees

Do you need to know how to trim evergreen trees?

As with any tree, if you choose the right place to plant it in the first place, you shouldn’t need to do any trimming, apart from removing dead or diseased branches. A tree will grow into its natural shape if it is planted well, with enough space around it to spread naturally to its ultimate height.

That’s in an ideal world, of course! The reality can be very different. You may have moved into a house that has a garden full of trees that weren’t planted in the right place. Or, if you live close to other people, you may want to know how to trim evergreen trees that have started invading the space over a fence or wall.

In these cases, it’s best to know what types of tree you are dealing with before you start cutting bits off. Random pruning could damage the growth and change the shape of the tree for the worse.

How to Trim Evergreen Trees

Think about those tall, elegant Mediterranean cypresses for example. They naturally grow in a narrow vertical fashion, without spreading outwards. If you were to chop the top off one of those trees, you might ruin the column shape the plant naturally wants to grow into.

How not to trim evergreen trees

It’s good to know what you are doing when you come to trim evergreen trees.

If you prune too much or at the wrong time, you might kill the tree off. Taking too many branches off or chopping too much off the top are common mistakes.

Another regular pruning error is to take the lower limbs off evergreen trees. It’s best to check out what tree you have and its natural growth habit before taking the tools to it.

How not to trim evergreen trees

When and How to Trim Evergreen Trees

Pruning at the right time and in the right places can give you a denser, bushier plant which will look more attractive.

It’s usually best to prune evergreens when they are dormant in early spring before new growth starts. You can also trim evergreen trees in mid-summer when they aren’t growing very much.

There are exceptions. With pines, wait for new growth to appear in the spring before you start trimming. Read on for more on pruning techniques for different evergreens.

 Whatever you are pruning, it is always a good idea to take no more than a third of the tree’s branches off. If you are reducing the tree’s height, take no more than 20%.

How to Trim Evergreen Trees

Is it alright to cut the top off an evergreen tree?

Not always! 

Most evergreens have a central leader branch, the tallest branch which helps give the tree its natural shape. This main branch shouldn’t need trimming unless you really have problems with the tree’s height.

If you simply chop the top off a tall evergreen, you might find it will carry on growing outwards, but stop growing vertically. You could end up with some oddly-shaped trees!

It’s always best to choose the right size and shape of tree for the location. Trying to keep a naturally big tree small by continually pruning it is difficult, and not always successful.

How to Trim Evergreen Trees

If you have to reduce the height of the tree and lose the leader branch, you can make a new leader by training one of the strongest branches vertically in the centre of the tree.

Different Types of Evergreen Trees

There are many different types of evergreen trees, so it makes sense to figure out what you’ve got before you start pruning. The same rule doesn’t apply to all evergreens. This is probably the most important thing to know when you come to trim evergreen trees.

Let’s look at some different types of evergreen trees and how to trim them.

How to Trim Evergreen Trees

Evergreens with Whorled Branches

This group includes fir, pine and spruce trees. The branches grow in a circular, ‘whorled’ fashion around a central stem. New growth forms on the tips of stems that grew the previous year – so be careful not to cut everything back to dead wood, or you won’t get any new growth.

If you want to reduce the overall size of a pine tree, it sometimes means removing whole branches. Wait until you see new growth on your pine tree in the spring before trimming. With spruces and firs, you can reduce the size of branches by cutting back to a lateral branch or visible bud.

Evergreens with Non-Whorled or Random Branches

Juniper, cedar, yew and Thuja are all examples of evergreens with a random branching pattern. This means they are usually more sturdy under pruning, and you can sometimes cut right into the deadwood and the tree will re-grow.

Yew is particularly hardy in this regard when it is grown and trimmed as a hedge. It’s safest not to cut right back to deadwood if you are taking the tops off evergreen trees.

How to Trim Evergreen Trees

Evergreen Shrubs that Grow as Trees

Look at the needs of each evergreen plant separately. Camellias and rhododendrons can grow into trees and do not need much if any, pruning. As long as they have enough space, they should be left pretty much to themselves. As with any plant though, if you see diseased or dead branches, you should cut these out.

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