Man pruning garden
Some of your trees and shrubs may need pruning to keep them healthy and manageable . We look at tools and techniques to help you prune in your garden.

Helpful Information

Timing: Varies by plant

Where to do it: Outdoors

Garden space: Small garden, large garden, balcony

  • When you prune, you remove waste material from plants, cut it up and take it to a compost heap. This provides movement and exercise for the whole body
  • Through pruning, you can really get to know plants. It can be amazing to see how a vigorous prune is followed by an abundance of new growth and flowers the next year
  • You can enjoy time outside in nature. It’s a great opportunity to pause and enjoy seeing what is growing around you
  • Pruning tools (see below for guide)

Optional items

  • Gardening gloves
  • Long-sleeved clothing to avoid getting scratched

Tools to make it easier

  • Brightly coloured string
  • Bamboo cane toppers / old plants pots
  • Wheelbarrow / plastic sheet
  • Litter picker
  • Clothes pegs
Secateurs and other tools laid out
Secateurs and other tools laid out

A number of different tools can help you prune your trees and shrubs.

We have separate articles if you want help deadheading plants or trimming hedges.


Secateurs are a common item in the gardening shed. They are ideal for pruning stems up to around a finger width in size.

Many secateurs are described as either bypass or anvil. Bypass secateurs are more popular. They work a bit like a pair of scissors to create a neat, precise cut. Anvil secateurs are arguably more powerful but use more of a crushing action.

If you garden with one hand, secateurs are a good choice for general pruning. Check they are the right size for your hand and the grip is comfortable. You also want to be able to release the safety catch easily.

Search for secateurs online

Ratchet secateurs / pruner

Using secateurs for a long period of time can be hard work on the hands. If you have any issues with grip, or suffer from pain in your hands, look for ratchet secateurs / pruners. These make a cut through several small squeezes rather than one big one. They may need a little practice to operate.

Search for ratchet secateurs online

Cut and hold tools

Cut and hold pruners and secateurs have a gripping device that locks onto and holds plant stems. They stop pruned material falling to the ground, making it easier to dispose of.

These can be particularly helpful if you have any sight loss, or difficulty with bending. It also avoids getting spiked when dealing with thorny plants, like roses.

Search for cut and hold tools online

Rotating handle secateurs

Secateurs are available with one handle that rotates. Some ergonomic versions are designed to make pruning easier for those with arthritis. However, the handle and safety catch can be hard to manage if you have a weak grip. It’s best to try them first.

Search for rotating handle secateurs online

Cordless pruner

A cordless pruner significantly reduces the effort needed to prune. You can operate them using one hand. Some models come with a telescopic pole to reach higher branches.

A cordless pruner does cost considerably more than manually operated secateurs / pruning tools. You may need to purchase replacement batteries or have somewhere you can charge it.

Search for cordless pruners online


If you are cutting larger stems, secateurs will struggle to do the job. Loppers are easier and safer. They work will for branches up to around 5cm wide (roughly the length of a thumb).

Loppers come in a range of sizes. Some have extending handles and/or a ratchet action.

You can use two hands to operate loppers. If you have a weak grip, you may find this easier than using secateurs with one hand.

Search for loppers online

Garden Snapper

Garden snappers are lightweight tools that allow you to reach and prune at a distance using one hand. They can prevent you from overstretching, or from having to step into your borders to prune. They are ideal for light pruning jobs, or for deadheading and picking fruit.

Search for garden snappers online

Pruning saw

For big jobs, you may prefer to use a pruning saw. The saw cuts on the ‘pull’ and not the ‘push’ stroke. This makes them easy to use even among crowded branches. Long-handled saws or ones with extendable handles are available.

Search for pruning saws online

Top tip

It may seem like a long list of possible tools for pruning! Most gardens will only need a small number of these, depending on the size and height of plants you have. It is always worth trying them out before buying if possible.

A person pruning a flower bush
A person pruning a flower bush

Pruning is not something you have to do to every plant in your garden. Many flowers, for example, die down naturally on their own. But some bigger plants, particularly trees and shrubs, can benefit from pruning.

If I want to look after my mental health, I repot a plant, prune something, or go into the garden and take a deep breath.

Maneesha, home gardener

Some of the reasons you might want to prune your plants are to:

1. Shape recently planted trees and shrubs (also called formative pruning).

2. Maintain the shape of existing plants.

3. Reduce the size of plants that have grown too big and wild (also called restorative pruning).

4. Encourage health and vigour. For example, pruning fruit trees and shrubs encourages them to produce more fruit.

Top tip

It’s not really a problem if you forget to prune a plant – it might just get a bit bigger than you wanted!

A buddleja stem with vivid purple flowers
A buddleia stem with vivid purple flowers

Different plants are best pruned at different times. Sometimes as a result pruning advice can seem complicated. But, in general, you prune your tree or shrub after it has finished flowering or producing fruit.

Some examples are shown below. It is always worth looking up your specific plant variety if you want to make certain.

Plants to prune in spring

Buddleia, fuchsia, autumn-fruiting raspberries

Plants to prune in autumn

Lavender, ornamental currant

Plants to prune in winter

Roses, grapevines, apple trees, blueberries

Top tip

One way to spend less time pruning is to choose plants that don’t need it. Shrubs including rhododendrons, daphne and viburnum will be happy with minimal effort.

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Pruning a thorny stem with a pair of secateurs
Pruning a thorny stem with a pair of secateurs

Essentially, when you prune you want to remove dead, dying and diseased growth. Then, it’s just about pruning it into the shape you want. For advice on shaping bushier plants, read our guide to hedge trimming and topiary.

These are some of the most important things to think of when you prune.

Use clean, sharp tools

Sharper tools are less likely to crush the plant as they cut and take less effort to use. Clean tools lower any risk of spreading disease from one plant to another.

It’s good practice to clean your tools after every use.

Find the right tool for you and the job

There is no one correct pruning tool. People have their own preference. Depending on the size of the branches you need to cut, you may need a bigger or smaller pruning tool. See the guide to tools above for detailed advice.

It is always worth holding / trying the tool out if possible at the garden centre. Pruning involves repeating the same motion many times. It’s important you can do it comfortably, without strain.

Know how much to cut

Some plants, like willow and buddleia, don’t mind if you prune them almost to the ground. But most trees and shrubs need a gentler approach. With many plants you only want to reduce the size by a maximum of one third at a time.

Where to cut

Before starting, walk around the plant and imagine how you would like it to look when done. Then, plan how to achieve that shape by pruning branches. Remember, it will grow again after pruning. There is always the opportunity to try again the next year, as long as you didn’t prune too much.

An example of a node on a salvia (Image credit: Forest & Kim Starr Wikimedia Commons)
An example of a node on a salvia (Image credit: Forest & Kim Starr Wikimedia Commons)

Think about where you will cut each branch or stem. Once cut, stems will gradually die back to the nearest ‘node'. A node is a gardening term for any point on the stem where buds and leaves grow from. They look and feel like little bumps on the stem.

When you prune, try and cut above nodes that are facing in the direction you want your new growth to go.

Sometimes, the middle of a plant gets overcrowded. If there are branches crossing and rubbing together, prune to clear space. This allows light to filter through and reduces risk of disease.

Make it easier

You could put clothes pegs on branches before you begin to clearly mark where you plan to cut.

If you are blind or partially sighted, work out what needs pruning by feeling upwards from the base of the plant. You should be able to identify the main stem or stems and a number of side shoots. On the stems / side shoots you will be able to feel the nodes.

Get pruning

Now you know how much to cut, what shape you want and where to cut each branch, it’s time to get going!

Make it easier

Pruning has the potential to cause strain. There are ways to make it easier, along with tools to keep you safe.

Reducing strain
Gripping and squeezing tools can hurt finger joints, particularly if you have arthritis. Warm up with a few gentle stretches and take regular breaks.

Reaching up to prune can put a strain on your legs, back, neck and arms. Don’t over stretch and do a little at a time.

You can buy fruit trees and some soft fruit bushes in semi-trained forms, such as espalier or cordons. These are easier to reach and prune.

If the job feels too big to do alone, you could ask a friend or get professional help.
Sight loss
If you have any any sight loss, once you’ve cut your first stem you could tie a piece of string at the end of it. You could use this as a guide to help cut all branches roughly the same length. You may want to put bright coloured bamboo cane toppers or old plastic pots over pruned branches. This will offer some protection from sharp ends.
Tools and equipment
Be careful when reaching into some shrubs as the branches or thorns may scratch you. Wear protective clothing and good gardening gloves. A litter picker in one hand can be used to pull a branch towards you to a workable height. Have a pair of secateurs in the other hand to cut the branch. If you don't have a litter picker, BBQ tongs will also work.

Clear cuttings

A row of wooden compost bins
A row of wooden compost bins

Plant prunings can go in your garden waste, or they are ideal on the compost heap if you have one. Cut into small pieces so they will compost down faster.

Make it easier

Place a plastic sheet or wheelbarrow beneath where you are pruning. This will help catch falling plant material. This is particularly handy if you have any issues with bending or mobility.

Once you've finished pruning, it can be a good idea to give the pruned plant a thorough water. This will help it recover and start growing again.

While you're at it, give yourself a water or a cup of tea too!

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