How to Trim Bushes: Understanding Pruning & Trimming for Your Montana Landscaping

Written By: Andrew Blanchford

Apr 17, 2020 9:58:34 AM

The shrubs found on your Montana landscape are a beautiful and important element of the property. They enhance the aesthetic appeal in ways that simply couldn’t be achieved without them. 

Part of keeping shrubs well-maintained is proper pruning. This is a service that is best left to professionals given the complex nature of the service. While a lot of people oversimplify what’s involved in pruning, there are costly mistakes that can be made if performed incorrectly.

That’s why understanding more about what is involved with shrub pruning can help you make a wise decision.

What is Pruning vs. Trimming?

Before we go any further, we want to pause here and explain the terminology. The words “pruning” and “trimming” often get used interchangeably but they don’t mean the same thing. You may have even searched for “how to trim bushes” when you stumbled upon this article.

Let’s start by explaining the difference.

Shrub trimming (also sometimes called “shearing”) is talked about in terms of cleaning shrubs up by reducing their size and tightening their form. It’s a service that we perform on certain shrubs (or at a homeowner’s very specific request). If a shrub just needs a little bit of cleaning up, we’ll do some simple trims.

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nicely trimmed shrubs and plants

However, most of the time we are performing pruning—and that’s likely what you want to know more about. Pruning is a much more complex service.

Pruning is more than just cleaning up the shrub, it’s about making extremely specific cuts to improve the overall health of the shrub. At the same time, it does have an added benefit of improving the look. We’ll explain in depth why this is important, how and when it should be performed, and what type of professional is best-suited for this kind of work.

Why Perform Shrub Pruning?

Most people think of pruning as an aesthetic task—something that makes their plants look neat and tidy— but there’s more to it than that. While it is true that regular pruning helps make a landscape look well-cared for and prevents it from becoming unruly, there are also tremendous health benefits to the plant when pruned properly. 

These health benefits come from eliminating sick or struggling parts of the plant. By intentionally cutting away infected, dead, and broken branches of a shrub, it improves the overall health of the plant. It no longer has to direct energy to try and restore the health of those struggling parts of the plant. 

With proper pruning you’ll begin to notice that your plants flourish. They’ll grow stronger and perform better as a whole.

How to Perform Pruning? Natural Look is Key to Montana Landscaping

It’s important to recognize that there is a right and a wrong way to perform pruning services. 

When performing a pruning, there are certain cuts that need to be made. These would be those that are aimed at removing unhealthy portions of the plant. It’s important that a skilled professional be able to identify what areas of the plant should be cut away. It’s also important that they are utilizing the right tools in order to make helpful cuts without damaging the plant. Different plants may require different tools (and an overall different approach) and a skilled professional will vary their methods to accommodate this. Pruning should also be performed with sharp tools as using dull tools is one potential way to damage a plant.

walkway with pruned shrubs and plants

But besides those necessary cuts, made with the proper tools, there are also aesthetic decisions to be made based upon the finished “look” that you are aiming to achieve. This is where some of the artistic value comes into play.

One of the factors that makes shrub pruning in Montana different from a lot of other parts of the country is that our focus is generally on the natural form of the plant. You don’t see a lot of extreme shearing where shrubs are shaped geometrically in boxes or balls. Instead, we’re looking to trim in a way that helps that plant to look well-suited in the natural environment.

That does not mean we’re just letting the plant “go” and grow however it wishes. Though the goal is for the plant to look as natural as possible, it’s still been tidily trimmed and groomed to promote its optimal health. This takes skill and know-how to trim in a way that retains the natural appearance while still making essential cuts that will add the plant’s overall health.

Typically, that means we are focusing on thinning and reducing. This allows more light to penetrate into the plant’s center so that leaves can grow throughout the plant. When light cannot infiltrate the inner parts of the plant, you can end up with a dead or dying center which is going to have a negative impact on the shrub as a whole (even if you don’t see it at first). 

When we are reducing, we are strategically pruning back to the bud as opposed to just haphazardly making cuts anywhere. We are also looking at the size of the shrub and judging what size next year’s branches will be as this also impacts our cutting decisions. We are always thinking ahead.

As you can see, there is both art and skill associated with shrub pruning and in order to achieve the best results, both of these elements must be mastered. You can definitely tell the difference between shrubs which have been pruned by a skilled professional and those that were worked on by lesser-skilled “pros.” 

When to Prune Shrubs? Timing Matters

One of the most important things you should know about shrub pruning is that the timing is essential. Pruning at the wrong time can have a detrimental impact. For instance, if you prune a flowering shrub at the wrong time, you may prevent it from blooming that season or the next. Lilacs are a popular and often-seen shrub in Bozeman and Big Sky, MT, and you’ll want to make sure that they are finished blooming before any pruning is taking place. 

garden with shrubs and plants

In addition to impacting your shrub’s bloom-ability, improper pruning can also lead to insect or disease concerns. Every shrub is going to have a different level of tolerance for pruning services and a professional will know how much is appropriate. While certain shrubs should never be aggressively pruned, others can handle it. 

There’s a lot of horticultural expertise that comes into play with shrub pruning. Many of the decisions made are based upon proper plant identification. But this can be complicated with the vast variety of plants in Montana. 

It comes down to an expert that truly knows their stuff.

How Often to Prune?

In addition to when bushes are pruned, the frequency of the service is also important. Typically, pruning less of the plant, but more frequently is recommended for its overall health. That’s because going long periods between pruning, and needing to make significant cuts, can put stress on the plant.

Frequent pruning with only “slight cuts,” forces the plant to put its energy into growing to recover. In turn, this will help thicken up the plant and promote optimal growth.

The exact frequency of pruning really is a horticultural decision made based upon the plant type and will be determined on a case-by-case basis.

Choosing a Shrub Pruning Professional

Although “how to trim bushes” might seem like one of those quintessential tasks that all professional landscapers know how to do, the truth is, there are plenty of pros that make pruning mistakes because they lack horticultural knowledge or certain pruning skills. There really is a lot more to this service than is often acknowledged. As we mentioned, those who are best at pruning have mastered both the skill as well as the art. 

You want to do everything you can to protect your landscape, which means choosing a professional who will be able to perform this service in a way that gives you the optimal benefits. 

A great Garden Services company will be able to provide you with the peace of mind that your property’s needs are being fully met. They’re masters at pruning, but they can handle all of your property’s other services, too. As a result, you can rest assured that your property is going to continue to thrive.

Choosing Blanchford Landscape Group for Your Pruning Needs

At Blanchford Landscape Group, shrub pruning is part of our Garden Services program and is performed on an ongoing basis as the landscape grows and matures. 

landscape in Montana with nicely trimmed and pruned trees and shrubs

Homeowners like that the structure of this program takes the worries out of their mind. They don’t have to wait until the property becomes unruly to call and request pruning services. They know that they’re going to get completed when they ought to be completed. 

Although most of the pruning we perform is for our Garden Services client, we have taken on large pruning jobs in the past for clients who were not part of our ongoing maintenance program. Perhaps they had a vacation home here and lost sight of how much the plant material grew on their property when they were away. They suddenly find themselves in need of a professional who can get their property back on track. We can work with these types of properties, as well.

Here at Blanchford, we have mastered the art and the skill of pruning and we really love doing it. We have quite a few skilled pruning masters here and they all appreciate the art of this service, including the way in which it can transform a property. 

When it comes to your pruning needs, we’re here for you.

By investing wisely in skilled pruning services, you are taking a valuable step in protecting the health and beauty of your landscape. As a result, you will be rewarded with the continued performance of your most beloved plants. 

Are you ready to learn more about garden services (landscape maintenance) at your Bozeman or Big Sky, MT home? Let’s connect and talk about your needs. Then we can meet and review a detailed plan of action. With everything being handled for you, you’ll be able to relax and enjoy your landscape.

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Topics: Landscape Maintenance, Planting

Posted by Andrew Blanchford

Andy grew up in southeast Pennsylvania. He holds a Bachelors of Science Degree from Pennsylvania State University in Landscape Contracting. He is a Certified Plant Professional and is the only Certified Landscape Industry Manager in Montana. When not at work he has fun with his family. He also enjoys travel, trail running, skiing, and the great Montana outdoors.