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Imagine that you can’t see out your windows and that your neighbors can scarcely tell there is a house next door. Does it seem like only yesterday when you saw your new landscaping but now you realize that you are past ready for a cleanup? How should you prune your


First, let’s settle the idea of electric hedge clippers. Electric (or gas or battery) hedge clippers are best not seen as a one-size-fits-all solution. Hedge clippers are designed for shearing. As one appropriate method of pruning, shearing is non-selective pruning. Pruning cuts are chosen strictly for aesthetic reasons, producing a formal shape. Plants traditionally sheared in formal gardens include yews, boxwoods and privets.

Shearing is best when confined to foliage and small twigs. Regular shearing results in a dense distribution of leaves at the perimeter of the plant. Over time, this growth pattern has the negative effect of reducing light and air circulation in the interior of the plant, raising the possibility of disease. For the health of the plant, therefore, it is best to balance a program of shearing with periodic thinning cuts.

This brings us to selective pruning. Unless you are seeking a formal shape, you should use selective pruning. While shearing is characterized by multiple inter-nodal cuts, selective pruning allows for precise cuts at the nodes or, namely, at bud or branch junctions. While shearing cuts are determined by form, selective pruning cuts are determined by function — determining which cuts are best for the health of the plant. An example of this type of pruning criteria would be to try not to cut back to a branch less than 33 percent of the diameter of the branch being cut and never less than 25 percent of it.

If you can’t see out your windows, what should you do? First of all, if the plants have been sheared in the past, you may be able to shear them back into shape by using commercial-grade equipment. You should expect to see many exposed branch ends. Secondly, consider that it may be most reasonable to remove and replace. For removal, digging out the stump is seldom necessary. When you replace, try to select plants whose mature size is appropriate for the site.

Third, get out a pruning saw and prepare to cut entire branches off, but always cut back to branch junctions. Remember, the more cuts you make with the saw, the fewer small cuts you will have to make with the clippers. Next, never attempt to tie branches back. Instead, remove them and the secondary branches will soon fill the gaps. Remove any branches growing toward the ground, into other plants or toward structures.

Finally, remove unsightly, broken, damaged, diseased or rubbing branches and always remove them at buds or junctions. Even when cutting for function, you can renew your landscape’s appearance.

Joshua Arp is an ISA-certified Municipal Specialist, a Clarks Summit Tree Commissioner and an operator of a landscape maintenance business. He can be reached at