Do you like to get a haircut? Or do you dread the trip to the barber or stylist?

How do you think the grass feels when it’s time to mow? What about plants when it’s time for pruning?

Although it may seem counterintuitive (that’s a fancy word that means “the opposite of what you expect”), the best way to get many plants to grow is by cutting them back at certain times of the year. We call these occasional “haircuts” pruning.

“Pruning” is a careful, selective process that involves cutting off parts of a plant to improve its shape and spark new growth. Exactly what type of pruning is necessary depends on the particular plant.

Some plants — like roses and other flowering plants — only need dead or weak parts removed. Other plants — like ornamental grasses — benefit from being completely cut back to the ground.

If you’re wondering whether pruning hurts a plant, the truth is that pruning does wound a plant. However, injuring a plant by pruning doesn’t have to hurt the plant’s overall health.

In fact, pruning stimulates a plant’s natural healing process, which promotes healthy growth. Flowering plants usually produce more flowers after pruning. Likewise, fruit trees often produce larger and healthier fruit after pruning.

Plants have an incredible ability to heal themselves. Immediately after pruning, cells around the pruned area mobilize to seal the wound and prevent the spread of infection.

This process improves the overall health of the plant and paves the way for future growth.

Sometimes plants need to be pruned for safety reasons. For example, trees that grow too tall can interfere with power lines, creating a danger to people nearby.

Utility workers regularly prune trees along power line paths to make sure they don’t grow too close to the lines.

One way you can prune wisely is to make sure your pruning tools are sharp. Clean, precise cuts will help plants heal faster.

Some of the pruning tools you may need include hand pruners, lopping shears, hedge clippers and pruning saws. Larger trees may require pole pruners or chain saws. Small plants may only require the cheapest of pruning tools: your fingers!

Knowing when to prune which plants is probably the most difficult part of gardening. Most plants should be pruned when they are dormant (inactive).

For many plants, this is during late fall, winter and early spring. However, this is not true for all plants.

Some plants — like spring blooming trees and shrubs — start getting new buds as soon as the old ones fall off. These types of plants should be pruned just after flowering. Still other plants require continual pruning to ensure healthy growth.

So how do you know when to prune a plant? And what happens if you prune a plant at the wrong time?

Don’t worry! Pruning is rarely fatal, even when done at the wrong time. Most plants will recover in the long run.

The best thing you can do before pruning is to identify the plants you want to prune. Do some Internet research about them, or visit a local plant nursery or gardening center to ask questions.

Don’t take out the pruning shears until you’re sure it’s the right time to prune!


16 Join the Discussion

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    • We’re glad you think it’s fun to help your parents prune the plants and shrubs, Olivia! Be careful, though! Pruning tools can be very sharp, so make sure a grown-up is always watching you prune and helping you learn the right way to cut to keep the plants healthy! Thank you for sharing your comment with us today! :-)

  1. We had someone share that she has tomato plants at home. She shared that she has pruned her plants just like discussed in the information. We also shared experiences about pulling weeds to keep from choking and killing our plants. We didn’t know that plants needed haircuts or even that when plants get “pruned” it actually helps them to grow more. Some of us have even seen special tools just for pruning plants! :)

    • We love hearing all the great things you learn from and share about each Wonder of the Day®, Kerrick Elementary School! Your comments make us smile every day! Thank you for sharing your experiences about pruning and plants today! :-)

    • It definitely takes some practice, Zaid! Also, you should always make sure you ask an adult before you use any kind of plant pruning tool. We want you to stay safe! We think it would be so much fun to learn how to prune bushes and plants into funny shapes, don’t you? Thank you for leaving us a great comment! :-)

    • Yum! Spinach and tomatoes are good tasting and good for you! We LOVE tomatoes and spinach (and squash, and carrots, and peppers…)! Thank you for leaving us a comment today, Wonder Friend! :-)

  2. I love Wonderopolis!!! When I was in 3rd grade, we looked at Wonderopolis almost everyday. Now that I am in 4th grade, I have to try to look at it myself, but when I do, it is so worth it! :)

    • WOW! What an AWESOME comment you left for us, Allison! We are SO HAPPY to hear that you are visiting Wonderopolis on your own! How is fourth grade? Is it a lot different than third grade? We hope you are having a WONDERful school year so far! :-)

  3. Pruning can also help with putting more of the plant’s energy into its fruits. For example, tobacco plants are usually pruned before they flower, so that the plant puts more energy into the part that humans use (the leaf) and less into the flowers. Usually if a tobacco plant flowers, it is usually thrown out because the leaves won’t have the flavor and quality humans have come to appreciate and expect. The same holds true for other flowering plants that humans use for other reasons other than aesthetics.

    • Thank you for sharing all this GREAT information, Klose! It is very interesting to think that a “haircut” can give a plant more energy to do the things we would like for it to do! :-)

  4. Fourth grade is awesome. Mostly because my teachers are awesome.
    Please reply back ASAP
    P.S. My mom has cut leaves and stuff before, but I never thought of it as giving it a “haircut”.

    • We’re SO happy to hear that you enjoy school so much, Allison! You’re lucky to have such awesome teachers who encourage you to learn and explore! Thanks so much for hanging out in Wonderopolis today! :-)

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Have you ever wondered…

  • Do plants need haircuts?
  • What is pruning?
  • When is the best time to prune plants?

Wonder Gallery

Try It Out

Ready to do a backyard inventory? Grab a pen and a notebook, and head outside to take stock of what’s there.

What plants live in the gardens and flower beds around your house? Feel free to ask for help if you don’t know the name of a particular plant.

If you want, you can take pictures of plants to help you identify them later. It can be a fun challenge to use the Internet to search for an unknown plant. If you have a mystery plant, use the PLANTS database to try to identify it.

Do the plants around your house need a haircut? Are there areas of the garden or flower beds that could use some work?

Identify the plants in these areas, and do some Internet research or visit a local plant nursery or garden center to learn about the best time to prune the plants in these areas.

If you can’t identify a particular plant or bush, you can take a leaf or a branch to the nursery or garden center. The gardeners there will be able to help you identify the plant and offer advice about its care and pruning.

If there are plants that can be pruned now, do it! Take a picture of the plant before you prune it and another one afterward.

Email us your pictures with a description of how you enjoyed your first experience as a plant barber!


Still Wondering

Check out Science NetLinks’ Plant Investigation activity to learn how to conduct a plant investigation that focuses on how seeds become plants.


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