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How to Prune Pine Trees

Trim these conifers when they are actively growing

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Learn how to prune evergreen pines in this video with Bert Cregg, an associate professor in the horticulture and forestry departments at Michigan State University.

These trees have a bottle brush type of arrangement, and usually have very symmetrical growth, but their shape can always be improved. Preventive pruning ensures that the tree grows the way you want, especially to get the fullness and height control in pines most people prefer.

When to prune pine trees

Pines (Pinus spp. and cvs.), whether they are trees or shrubs, unlike many other trees, should be pruned during active shoot growth. Each year the new growth on a pine will establish buds for next year’s growth. Pruning while the plant is in its growth phase ensures that there will be sufficient time for the shoot to produce a new set of buds for next year’s growth before the plant goes dormant.

How to prune pine trees with “candling”

Candling is the term used when pruning a pine tree’s new shoots, which look a bit like candles. The best time to prune is when the needles on the candles are about half the size of the plant’s mature needles.

Cut the candles back to your desired length. The tree will produce buds below the cut, and next year new growth will sprout, growing out laterally. This helps to control height and reduces space between whorls in the tree for an overall fuller appearance.

Use hand pruners to cut the growth back; if the shoots are still fairly green and succulent, you can also pinch to the desired length using just your hand. Next year the new growth will emerge from that point.

Things to be careful of when pruning pine trees

Do not prune below the sprouts unless you want to eliminate or delay future growth in that area on the tree. Pruning below any of the established whorls will create a dead stump below the cut, as new growth cannot sprout from old wood.

Previous: Pruning Conifers for Health Next: How to Prune Firs, Douglas Firs, and Spruces
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Pruning

Pruning

Expert advice on where, when, and why to trim your plants

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