What is the Difference Between Pruning & Trimming Trees and Hedges?

Trees and hedges require routine maintenance, but they’re an integral part of any landscaping. You’ll need to understand pruning vs trimming and purchase a few tools to keep your landscaping pristine: hedge trimmer, pole saws, hand shears, and lopping shears.

If you’re new to landscaping or just purchased your first shrubs or hedges, it’s important to understand the difference between pruning and trimming.

Pruning vs Trimming: Understanding the Difference

Trees, shrubs, and hedges will need to be trimmed and pruned to keep them healthy. The primary difference between the two terms is the goal of each maintenance task.

Pruning is a targeted approach to improve the overall health of the plant. Whereas trimming is a more subjective task that is focused on the aesthetics of your trees, and shrubs and overall landscape. We will go into additional detail on each service in the coming paragraphs.

While it sounds like a lot of work, pruning and trimming are both required to keep your plants healthy. It is especially important to understand the difference in trimming vs pruning when hiring a landscape professional.

If you book an appointment for a tree trimmer, he or she may not be qualified to inspect your trees for disease or know which cuts to make for maximum flower growth. So always be specific about your goals during the hiring process.

What is Pruning?

Pruning helps improve your landscaping in several ways (discussed below). When you prune a tree (or bush), you will take a targeted approach to remove specific branches one at a time. The goal of pruning is to promote healthier growth and discourage the spread of decay or disease.

Benefits of Pruning

  • Pruning of individual dead branches so the healthy areas can receive good light and air circulation.
  • Deters pests and infestation by removal of weakened or infected branches that may cause the spread to other areas of the tree or yard
  • Encourages denser growth by selectively cutting leader branches and forcing offshoots to grow in their place
  • Promotes flowering and berry production by removing older branches that are not as productive


As a general rule, the time to prune your trees and hedges should be performed when the tree is dormant. This is typically in the late winter to early spring seasons.

The type of branches that produce flowers may also determine the time of year. If there will be flowers (or berries) on new growth, you should prune in winter and very early spring, before the new growth has begun.

When blooming occurs on old growth, prune after the flowers fade in late spring or summer, then allow these branches to continue to grow undisturbed throughout the fall and spring.

flowering bushes that could use a trim

Required Tools

Pruning tools generally have shorter blades and are designed to cut one branch at a time.

  • Hand pruning shears
  • Lopping shears
  • Pruning saws for thicker branches

When pruning, you want to make cuts above the bud and avoid getting too close where you can damage the bud. Identify the location to cut by selecting a bud that is pointing in the direction you want the remaining branch to grow. Ideally, you’ll cut at a 45° angle and be sure to cut off any weak branches that may be impacting growth or that are at risk of falling.

What is Trimming?

Trimming is required for all trees, shrubs, and hedges. Rather than targeting individual branches, you will be trimming entire sections. Some examples of trimming include:

  • Trimming your hedges to an even 6-foot height to create a uniform appearance.
  • Adding more sunlight to your backyard by trimming back larger tree branches.
  • Trimming bushes to stay within the outlines of your landscape beds.

Benefits of Trimming

When you trim a tree, you’ll be benefitting your landscape in several key ways.

  • Improves the appearance of your yard
  • Shapes the bushes to the desired form
  • Allows more sunlight to reach smaller plants


Tree trimming follows pruning when maintaining your backyard. First, you prune your trees to keep them healthy. Then you trim additional sections to achieve the desired size and shape that works well with the rest of your property.

Required Tools

Equipment used for trimming tasks have longer blades that can cut several branches or stems at once. Some equipment can be used for both tasks when skillfully applied.

  • Longer Hedge Shears
  • Tree Trimmers
  • Pole Saws
man trimming tree with a pole saw

Practical Tips for Pruning & Trimming Trees, Shrubs, and Hedges

There are a lot of trees, shrubs, and hedges, all with different blooms and trimming needs. You’ll want to learn specifically about the trees and plants you have in your yard.

Timing of Tree Trimming

Learning when to prune or trim your landscape plants is an important part of the maintenance process.

Here are a few tips for proper timing when pruning and trimming:

  • Prune your conifers in winter when they’re fully dormant
  • Non-blooming trees and shrubs should be trimmed and pruned in late winter through very early spring
  • Trees, shrubs, and hedges that bloom in summer should be pruned after flowering or trimmed in late winter
  • Landscape plants that bloom in spring should be pruned right after they bloom

Shaping Bushes and Hedges

man pruning and shaping bushes with hedge shears

Shaping your bushes and hedges can be done at any time of year. When you perform your shaping, be sure to trim back any of the small branches that you can cut with lopping shears. Branches that are dead or potentially diseased should be removed as soon as possible.

These weak branches will often fall off in snowstorms or ice storms and pose a serious risk of damage if they’re larger and near the home.

Maintaining Younger Trees

Young trees and shrubs should be allowed to grow, but they still need to be pruned to encourage healthy growth. A few key pointers to follow when pruning these younger shrubs and trees are:

  • Remove branches that are growing towards the center of the plant
  • Remove lower branches on trees
  • Don’t cut back the shrub’s leader

Deciduous shrubs should have their branches thinned out and any broken, diseased, or crossing branches pruned or trimmed.

Learn About Pruning and Trimming Specific Plants In Your Region

As a homeowner, you’ll need to figure out what your trees, plants, and shrubs are and the best ways to care for these specific plants. You have a lot of ways to determine what’s growing in your yard and how to care for them:

  • Books
  • Extension offices
  • Landscapers
  • Nurseries
  • Etc.
man cutting a straight edge to his hedges
Some hedges look better with a straight cut where others can be trimmed into a more natural shape.

Local landscapers and extension offices are often great options because they know the local area and how to deal with everything from pests and diseases to pruning and trimming. Your landscaper will be able to come to your home, identify trees and shrubs and provide care recommendations.

Books can be helpful, too. If you’re able to identify the plants and trees in your area, you’ll find plenty of books geared towards homeowners trying to care for their yard.

Since nurseries have a wide selection of trees and plants to choose from, they can also be a great source of information. These professionals should be able to provide insight into how to care for your trees and plants.

Once you have the right tools, you can take care of your own tree pruning, trimming, and hedge maintenance. Or you can always call on a landscaper if you don’t mind paying for the service.

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