How to trim pine trees

7 Tips for How to Trim a Pine Tree Without Killing It

To trim a pine tree without killing it, perform pruning in spring. Use a pair of loppers to trim branches under 2 inches (5 cm) in diameter. Cut larger branches with a reciprocating saw fitted with a pruning blade. When trimming your pine tree, focus on removing diseased branches before removing unwanted branches. Where possible, thin out undesirable branches without cutting off the entire limb. Never cut off the top of a pine tree, as this results in poor growth and invites disease.

Table of Contents

7 Tricks of the Trade for Trimming a Pine Tree Safely

When trimming a pine tree, it’s essential to follow procedures that will result in a healthy, attractive tree that will thrive in your yard for years to come. Mistakes made when pruning a pine are irreversible and can result in the death of your tree. For best results, follow these tips:

Prune in Spring

The best time to trim a pine tree is just as winter transitions to spring. So, plan your pruning for late-February through March. If possible, do not prune your pine tree from late summer through winter. Pine growth slows starting in September and your tree will struggle to heal the wounds of pruning if it is trimmed after this point.

  • Prune between late February and late March.
  • Avoid pruning in late summer, fall, and winter.
  • As an exception, it’s advisable to remove dead or diseased branches at any time of year.

If your pine has dead, dying, or broken branches, it’s acceptable to prune these off at any time. It’s best to get rid of the dead wood as soon as possible, to prevent any disease from moving in.

Use the Proper Tools

The best tools for pruning a pine tree are a pair of loppers and a reciprocating saw fitted with a pruning blade. Loppers are best used on branches less than 2 inches (5 cm) thick. For large branches, use the reciprocating saw. This will quickly and safely trim branches.

  • Use loppers to trim branches less than 2 inches (5 cm) in diameter.
  • Use this reciprocating saw with a pruning blade to trim larger branches.
  • Clean all pruning tools thoroughly with rubbing alcohol after use, to prevent transmitting diseases from tree to tree.
  • Do not use a pruning seal after trimming branches. This compound is actually harmful to trees and interrupts the natural healing process.

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It’s good practice to clean your pruning tools with isopropyl alcohol when moving from one tree to another. This reduces the risk of bacterial infection spreading from a diseased tree to a healthy one.

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Remove Dead or Dying Branches

The first order of business when trimming a pine tree is to prune dead, dying, broken, and diseased branches. If a particular branch of your pine tree is turning brown and dropping needles excessively, it’s probably diseased and should be removed.

  • Prioritize trimming dead and diseased branches.
  • Search your tree for bare branches and ones with brown needles.
  • If two branches are rubbing against each other, remove one branch. Where one branch rubs against another, bark can be damaged. This invites disease and pests.
  • Removing dead branches reduces the risk of tree rot, invasive pest insects, and spreading tree diseases.

Dead, broken, and diseased branches represent a risk to your entire tree. If not removed, they can attract burrowing insects or invite disease that kills your entire pine from root to crown. Get rid of these branches first and foremost.

Cut Off Dangerous or Unwanted Branches

There are several valid reasons you may want to trim your pine tree. A branch that hangs over your roof or driveway can fall during a storm, causing damage to your home or vehicles. Overhanging branches can also scrape against shingles, clog gutters with pine needles, and provide a highway for raccoons and other animals to gain access to your roof. Feel free to trim these branches back.

  • Trim overhanging branches to prevent them from falling on your roof, tangling with power lines, dropping pine needles, and allowing animals to climb onto your roof.
  • Trim low branches to allow you to perform lawn maintenance more easily, or to create usable shade beneath a large pine.
  • It is safe to remove the lower one-third of branches from a pine without killing the tree.

Low branches on pine trees can make mowing and edging around the base of the tree difficult or impossible. It is safe to remove low branches on your pine tree, but keep in mind these branches won’t grow back. You can ruin the look of your tree by over-pruning.

Remove Suckers

Suckers are pine tree sprouts that come up from the roots of a mature tree. These small sprouts steal nutrients, water, and vigor from the main tree. They should be pruned.

  • Cut pine suckers off at soil level using pruning shears.
  • Do not use herbicide on suckers—any chemical that enters the sucker plant can travel back to the parent tree.

Although you may not see the connection between the sucker and mature pine tree, the suckers may have sprouted from the main tree’s roots. Because of this, it’s important not to treat suckers with systemic weed killers. These can travel through the tree roots back to the main pine and harm it.

Thin Out Branches Without Removing Them

Pine trees grow from the top and will not replace low limbs that are cut off. Because of this, it’s important to be careful when trimming your pine. Where possible, thin out or shorten undesirable healthy branches rather than removing them entirely.

  • Pine trees will not replace low limbs that are trimmed, so choose carefully when pruning.
  • Instead of removing an entire branch, thin it by removing half the branching twigs.
  • Do not remove the tip of the pine branch. This is where new growth comes from. A branch that has been shortened from the tip will die.

When trimming a pine tree, it’s best to start small and work from there. Remember, you can always go back and trim more, but your pine won’t replace low limbs once they are removed.

Never Cut the Top Off a Pine

“Topping” or cutting the upper section of a pine tree off completely should be avoided at all times. You may be tempted to do this to shorten a pine tree that you deem too tall, but this is an ill-advised solution. A pine tree that has had the top cut off will experience ragged growth and is extremely susceptible to rot and disease.

  • Never cut off the entire upper portion or “point” of a pine tree.
  • Cutting the top off a pine tree invites disease and causes poor growth.
  • If your pine is too tall and is interfering with your home or power lines, it’s best to consider transplant or removal.

A pine that is too tall is a good candidate for removal. As unfortunate as this may seem, it is preferable to an unsightly and diseased pine tree that has been “topped.”

How to Safely Trim a Pine Tree

To trim a pine tree without causing harm, it’s essential to follow these tips:

  • Prune your pine in early late winter through spring.
  • Use loppers and a reciprocating saw for tree pruning.
  • Prioritize the removal of dead and damaged branches.
  • Remove branches that overhang your roof, or prune branches at the base of the pine that interferes with lawn and garden maintenance.
  • Cut off pine tree suckers at soil level.
  • Consider thinning out branches rather than removing them entirely.
  • Never cut the entire top section off your pine in an attempt to shorten it.

With these guidelines, you can keep your pine tree healthy through pruning. By carefully pruning with the right tools at the right time, your pine will recover from pruning wounds and bounce back to full health in a single season.

Top Tips on How to Prune and Care for Evergreens

Last updated: March 29, 2021  by Rootwell Products Inc.

Pine trees are one of the hardiest types of trees. They have a naturally beautiful shape that rarely needs pruning.

There are some considerations if you have a few pine trees on your land, or want to do more to influence the shape, size, and health of your trees.

When And How to Prune Pine Trees

Pine trees are nature’s answer to green even in some of the earth’s coldest climates. Do you know there is a ring of evergreen trees around the whole earth, like a crown? They grow on every continent at high altitudes and cool climates. If you live in a cool climate, you appreciate your evergreen trees even more in the winter.

If you have a large yard or acreage where it doesn’t matter how big or tall your pine trees get, you may never need to prune. Pine trees naturally grow in a pleasing shape.

However, there are some reasons to prune a pine tree.

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Storm or Human Damage

Pine trees can sustain damage after storms just like any other tree. You will want to safely remove any broken limbs that occur as soon as you can after the damage. It is best if this can be avoided in the late summer or early fall to give your tree a chance to scab over before cold weather hits. However, sometimes it can’t be avoided.

Sadly, people can also treat trees like it won’t hurt them to tear off limbs and sticks. It is best to remove a wounded branch at the collar. The collar is the place where a branch joins the main trunk of the tree. It is slightly wider than the rest of the branch.

This is preferable to merely trimming the length of branches, as that will result in a stunted-looking tree over time.

There is another method to control the growth of the branches and make it more compact. First, the right way to cut a branch off at the collar is to first make a cut up from the bottom of the branch about a foot away from the trunk, then move out another inch or so and cut all the way through from top to bottom.

After the rest of the limb has been removed, cut the stub flush with the collar. This method prevents you from peeling bark from the trunk along with the wounded limb.

Branch Rubbing

Pine trees rarely have branches that rub each other, but when they do, one of the branches should be removed. Constant rubbing makes way for pests and diseases when the protective layer of bark is rubbed away.


You can make a pine look more dense and lush over time as it grows by pinching back the new growth tips – or candles – in the spring. Just break them off in the middle by hand instead of with shears. Shears can cut needles making them turn brown.

Diseased Pine Trees

The one thing we don’t expect is to see brown, dry needles on our pine trees at any time of year. If you are seeing brown needles, you need to diagnose the problem.

What season is it? What part of the tree is affected?

All pine trees have a shedding period. If it is fall, this is normal. All pines have an annual drop.

If, however, it is not the fall and you have a dead lower half, it is not normal and something probably needs to be done for the tree.

Here are some common things that can cause pine trees to do this:

  • Need for more sun – If there are lower branches that aren’t getting enough sunlight, they might react this way. You may want to trim nearby shade trees or anything surrounding the bottom of the pine so the lower branches can have access to sunlight.
  • Lack of water – The tree could be prioritizing the life of the tree over the life of the lower branches because it isn’t getting enough water. If you suspect this is the case, consider installing a deep root watering system.
  • Salt de-icer – Salt as a de-icer on your driveway can kill your trees. The bottom branches can be harmed by your salty driveway, where they are exposed to it all winter. Stop using salt on your driveway if you suspect this is the cause.
  • Disease – Lower branches dying might also be a fungal disease. Sphaeropsis tip blight starts at the tips, but eventually, the lower branches die. Clip out diseased sections when this happens and spray a fungicide in spring. Keep spraying until the new needles are fully grown.

Pine tree on left had Rootwell Pro-318s installed.

When to Fell Pine Trees

It is never easy to decide to cut down a tree. After all, they have been around for so many years by the time you have to consider cutting one down.

But they do, sometimes, need to be felled for the safety of people and buildings.

There are also a few other things to consider as you’re wondering if your tree can be saved, or if you want to keep it:

Is your tree healthy?

If you have a tree that is damaged over 50% of its body, it should probably be cut down. It would continue to survive, but it won’t ever come back to health.

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Is the trunk damaged?

If you see vertical cracks, seams, dead branch stubs, large old wounds or anything like that, it probably means the tree is suffering internally as well. Severe enough damage to the trunk – over 25% of the circumference of the trunk – probably means the tree should be cut down. If it’s less than that, the tree will eventually heal itself.

Is it hollow?

Hollow trees can actually live for a long time. The living tissue of the tree is actually just below the bark, not in the middle. However, a hollow trunk can make a tree weak and dangerous in storms. If ⅓ of the interior is hollow or rotten, the tree should come down.

Are there dead branches?

Trees with their tops broken, who have large damaged limbs, or have dead branches all on one side, causing them to be lopsided, are all a hazard to people. If over 25% of the branches are damaged, it needs to be removed.

Does your tree have sprouts coming from the base or small branches coming from the trunk?

Trees do not normally grow this way. It is a sign of severe stress. Trees that do this have probably experienced injury – usually related to home construction – or have been over-exposed to sunlight due to forest thinning.

Sometimes soil compaction can cause this. A professional arborist needs to evaluate this tree to see if it can be brought back to health. Otherwise, it is a danger and needs to come down. If over 50% of a tree’s root system has been damaged due to construction, it needs to come down.

Is there trunk rot or large fungus near the base?

Sometimes mushrooms and trees go hand in hand. However, if a fungus is growing on the tree itself, it could be an indication of internal rot.

Is the tree leaning?

Sudden leaning means the tree has had a breakage or weakening of its roots. A tree that has grown leaning – more than 15% off from vertical – has a higher chance of falling and should probably be taken down.

Special considerations:


Pine trees are some of nature’s most beautiful giants. Care for yours well and it will bring your winter days cheer for years to come.

Rootwell Pro-318s are porous cylinders that are installed around a tree. This deep root watering system allows water, air, and nutrients to penetrate deep into the root zone. They have been scientifically proven to help trees thrive.

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Scots pine pruning: description, varieties, advice

Scots pine pruning is a decorative or sanitary procedure, the purpose of which may be rejuvenation, health improvement of the plant or crown formation. Actions require certain skills and dexterity from the owner of the garden plot. Pruning provides conifers with enough light for growth and development, while the culture does not interfere with neighboring plantations.


General rules

Pruning - a procedure consisting of removing branches, pinching the top and reducing shoots. Periodically pruning a tree is necessary if the pine tree obscures neighboring crops, interferes with power lines, or is affected by pests. The process should keep the plant beautiful and healthy.

Pruning is carried out in the period from early February to spring until the moment when sap flow begins. If you carry out the procedure in the summer, the cut points can become a gateway for fungal diseases. Dry branches can be removed at any time, since they do not have juices. The exception is pinching: it is carried out at the beginning of summer, when the growth of shoots and "candles" has ended.

The first pruning is carried out already at planting, removing damaged roots and branches. Young shoots should be cut when they are large enough to influence the shape of the crown.

Before starting the procedure, it is necessary to mark the parts to be removed. It is better to start work with a young plant, as adults do not tolerate pruning and get sick. When cutting a branch, you should leave a green shoot next to it, otherwise it will die.

Unlike many other plants, pine does not have a so-called "dead zone". This means that the branches of the tree do not die from density. But the lower ones can dry out due to lack of light, so they are periodically removed.

Like most conifers, pine has one central trunk. If there are several of them, leave one, the rest are deleted.

Trimming types

The process of the procedure depends on the purpose. For rejuvenation and healing, only obsolete old and dry branches are removed. If the pine shade other plants or interfere with others, large shoots are removed. The crown is formed solely for aesthetic reasons.

For rejuvenation

If a pine has been growing on the site for more than 10 years, many bare branches appear on it. This is due to the fact that a bud is formed at the end of the shoot, giving growth for the next year. If it is not cut, the branch will lengthen, the needles will fall off, and the green part will form only at the end.

To rejuvenate a tree, a gardener shortens young branches, activating dormant buds, and cuts off old ones. Pruning is performed every 3 years in several stages:

  • shoot ends are removed in September;
  • remove long shoots that do not have a growing point;
  • cut off weak shoots in the lower part in spring.

Pruning is done so that needles remain on the branches. To give the tree a cone shape, the lower branches are made longer than the upper ones.

Interesting! The most beautiful varieties of pines

Decorative pruning and crown shaping

Decorative pruning of Scotch pine is made exclusively for aesthetic purposes. The procedure is carried out in May so that young shoots form in the right place. Plants in the second year of life are suitable for this. Pruning can be done in several directions.

The most traditional is the shape of a ball or cone. Cutting trees requires skill and skill. The simplest method is a hedge, when protruding shoots are removed, and the trees are trimmed to the same length.

The Japanese niwaki style requires special skill. Coniferous plants can take various forms depending on the designer's intent. In this style, the following directions are distinguished:

  • tekan - they form paws-caps, leaving only horizontal branches;
  • kiot - vertical or horizontal fluffy hats are formed;
  • kotobuki - the shape of the tree resembles the Japanese character for happiness;
  • mogi - the trunk of the tree is bent in one plane, the formation of the crown requires particularly painstaking work;
  • kongai - the roots are located above the drooping branches, this style looks beautiful if the tree is located above the water or on a hill;
  • shakan - a style in which the trunk remains straight, but is fixed at an angle.

First you need to draw the future shape of the tree, draw up a scheme for pruning Scots pine. Next, decide which branches need to be removed. If a bonsai-style process is intended, young shoots are pulled back and fixed in a horizontal position, then pruned until the resin is released.

To form a spherical crown, young growths are made of different lengths - from 2 to 8 cm. To improve the decorative properties, some of the needles are plucked to stimulate air exchange in the crown. If niwaki-style crowning is required, the technique is as follows:

  1. At the end of autumn or the beginning of winter, all dry branches are removed.
  2. In summer, each part of the crown is shaped so that it looks like a triangle with the point down.
  3. It is impossible to give the desired shape to the whole tree at once. It is dangerous to remove more than 30% of the green mass. First, one group of branches is formed, the next - in a year.

Another method of pruning is used to control growth - pinching. It allows you to make the plant less tall and at the same time give the crown splendor. With fingers or with the help of tools, the top of the shoot is removed, in its place, areas with shortened needles are formed. The best time for pinching is mid-July.

Useful information: What plants are called conifers

Sanitary pruning

This plant treatment method is designed to protect the pine tree from disease. As the tree grows, many old branches form, which play no role, but become a breeding ground for infections.

To keep the crop healthy, obsolete branches should be removed regularly in autumn and spring. This is easy to do with secateurs. Sometimes the shoots break off themselves: then you need to make sure that the living tissue is not damaged. If a fresh cut accidentally appears, it is treated with paint or resin.

Further care

After pruning mature Scots pine, it is important to properly care for the crop so that it develops normally. The resulting sections are treated with paint so that pathogens do not get into them.

After the procedure, the pine is abundantly watered and the earth around the plant is loosened. The roots will receive additional oxygen and moisture, which will help the tree recover faster. If the plant is diseased, it is sprayed with fungicides.

Proper pruning and further care is the key to healthy plant development. This process does not cause much trouble, but allows you to get a beautiful lush tree that pleases the eye.

Pruning pine and spruce in spring and autumn in 2022 at GudGrunt

Table of contents

  • Why are pine and spruce pruned?
  • When is the work done?
  • Features of crown formation
  • How to trim?
  • Post procedure care

Cultural cultivation of coniferous plants requires constant care for their health and beauty. Pruning pine and spruce is a useful operation that has a positive effect on the condition of the tree.

Why are pine and spruce pruned?

There are several types of pruning of popular conifers.

  • Sanitary pruning.

This is the most common way to help the plant. Broken, weak and damaged branches are regularly removed. They pose a danger to the plant itself, as they sometimes cause fungal diseases. Such branches can break off and damage surrounding objects or people nearby, especially in strong winds or other adverse natural phenomena. Sanitary pruning can be done on a large specimen if the tree will shade the area too much. In this case, the lower branches are completely removed - after that, other plants can be planted with pine.

  • Rejuvenating haircut.

Carry out on mature pine and spruce with a lot of bare and dry branches to stimulate the growth of new shoots.

  • Decorative trim.

The most popular type. The procedure is carried out on coniferous trees, which act as a hedge, and when grown using the bonsai technique. When cultivating pine and spruce in their usual form, regular pruning is also carried out. The procedure improves the shape of the crown, and, if necessary, inhibits the growth of the tree, which is especially important for tall varieties.

When is the work done?

Sanitary pruning is carried out at any time of the year. Work is carried out urgently if an emergency occurs, for example, a large branch is broken and poses a threat to surrounding people, animals or buildings.

In spring, they form a crown, create a compact top and give the pine and spruce a decorative look. The time of spring pruning depends on climatic and weather conditions.


Young shoots of the current year are called candles. Work is carried out when they reach their maximum size, but the needles have not yet begun to bloom. This usually happens in June.

In summer it is appropriate to prune young shoots that extend beyond the crown. In young plants, extra branches can be removed until the end of summer. It is not recommended to do this later: before the cold weather, the cambium does not have time to stand out, which “heals” fresh wounds.

Rejuvenating haircut is carried out in autumn. The main growth zone is located at the ends of pine and spruce shoots, so over time, old trees lose their lower leaves and lose their attractiveness. They cut off the ends on the bare old shoots, leaving part of the needles on them. In spring, dormant buds will wake up on shortened shoots and new young branches will grow.

Pruning in late autumn and in winter is not recommended: cuts become vulnerable, freezing of wood is possible.


The result of pruning depends on the condition of the tree. A healthy and vigorous plant will tolerate the procedure easily. In a very weakened pine or spruce, dormant buds may not wake up, so work is not carried out on such a plant.

Features of crown formation

Coniferous tree is a wonderful decoration for any garden. Along with Scotch pine (green), varieties with a grayish, silvery and even yellowish tint of needles have become widespread. With regular pruning, the decorativeness of the tree increases without worsening its general condition.

Pine and spruce pruning tactics depend on the cultivation method. The work required differs depending on whether the plant has the traditional form of a common downy tree, is used for hedges, or is cultivated in the Japanese style. Each pruning has its own goal, the main task is to imagine in advance what result should be obtained.

  • Traditional shape.

Many coniferous trees form beautiful crowns on their own. For example, blue spruce usually does not need pruning, acquiring a dense evergreen cap with age.

Decorative pruning can give a tree its original shape. A beautiful pyramid, a flat hemisphere, a cone or a cylinder - the option depends on the skill and imagination of the author, as well as on the type of wood. You can create coniferous masterpieces in the form of animals and people, but only very skilled craftsmen can do such work on spruce and pine trees.

Regular scheduled pruning is carried out more often, its scheme depends on the desired shape and condition of the plant. Only trees older than two years can be subjected to such a procedure.

  • Hedge.

When growing pine as a hedge, pruning is carried out annually. The top is removed for the first time when the plant reaches the required height. This will stimulate the growth of side shoots and reduce the gaps between adjacent specimens.

  • Nivaki style.

This is the Japanese art of orchard tree cultivation, often used in pine and spruce cultivation. It differs from the bonsai style known to many in the way it is grown. "Bonsai" - "a tree on a tray", and the roots of nivaki are not limited to a small pot, but develop in freedom, directly in the garden. Depending on the style of nivaki, pine or spruce is formed in different ways. For example, as a straight tree with a triangular crown shape or at an angle to the ground. Monkaburi is an original way of shaping pine. At such a tree, one very long horizontal branch is left, which is located above the entrance to the garden. In Japanese monasteries and temples, old niwaki-style pine trees are especially revered.

It will take a lot of time and effort to create a tree using this technique, it is a long and painstaking process. They are determined with the desired height of the plant, regularly remove the "extra" branches and form a crown. New shoots annually need to be shortened by more than half their length. Creating a pine or spruce in the style of nivaki consists of pinching candles, removing some of the needles and cutting. This is a creative process, each plant needs an individual approach.


Pine gives off a lot of fragrant amber resin. After pruning, the tree heals its wounds on its own with this bactericidal substance. All work should be carried out with gloves, because the resin is difficult to wash. The cut does not need additional processing with preparations.

How to cut correctly?

Disinfected tools are used for work. Depending on the age of the tree and the thickness of the branches, a pruner, garden shears, a small hacksaw or a file are used.

There are several types of cutting.

  • Thinning.

Remove badly placed branches that spoil the appearance of pine or spruce. In a too dense crown, over time, some of the shoots die off due to insufficient sunlight. Too close neighboring branches can damage each other. Timely thinning helps prevent such problems.

Before work, the tree is inspected, the unnecessary branch is completely removed. The cut point is made short. They try to process it with a knife so that there is no hemp left.

  • Pinching.

This method helps to form a denser and fluffier crown of the plant. It is carried out when young shoots stop growing at the beginning of summer, and the needles are already beginning to separate from the stem. During pinching, part of the candle is partially or completely broken out.

Smaller branches can be trimmed with sharp pruning shears, larger ones with a garden saw or hacksaw. Remove parts of the shoots carefully so as not to damage the dormant buds, from which new shoots will appear in the future. At the base of a truncated branch, 3-4 new strong shoots usually appear, on weak plants there may be fewer of them. The crown becomes fluffy, acquires a rounded shape.

With late pinching (end of July - August), the buds do not have time to form in the current season. They will appear only next spring.

  • Cutting.

This is the most common way to change the appearance of a pine or spruce. When pruning, part of the tree trunk is removed. The operation is performed on both young and adult specimens.

The young tree quickly stretches, adding about 15 cm annually. If desired, an adult Scots pine over thirty years old can be formed up to two meters high with the help of proper pruning. In nature, such plants grow above 10 meters.

Pine and spruce pruning scheme is due to the apical type of growth of these plants. After removing the upper part, it will periodically be necessary to remove the remaining neighboring shoots: they tend to replace the removed top over time, tend to take up a vertical position. On mature wood, dormant recovery buds do not germinate, so plant formation begins at a young age.

Trimming tips
  1. No more than a third of the green mass of the plant is removed in one cut.
  2. Work carried out regularly, long breaks or cessation of pruning will spoil the result of previous work.
  3. Pine and spruce should be pruned at a young age when they are compact.
  4. When pinching, usually remove up to 2/3 of the growth. During pruning, 1/3 of the branch is removed.

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