Pruning Pine Trees

Pruning Pine Trees

pine tree close up header

Fragrant, sheltering and green all year long, Pine Trees add stupendous beauty to your landscape throughout the year! So it’s important to keep them healthy and looking their very best!

Pruning is a task that often feels overwhelming, yet it’s a necessary task for any gardener with trees and shrubs! But worry not, it’s really not as tricky as you’d expect! Pines go through their own fall needle drop, shedding old needles in preparation for new spring growth. This is normal and not a reason to worry.

Occasional winter or early spring pruning not only encourages thicker, fuller growth but also gets you in touch with your trees so you can monitor their health, enjoy their fragrance and beauty, and give them the attention they deserve for all they do for your scenery!

Getting Started


Before, during, and after pruning - sterilize your pruning equipment with rubbing alcohol (70% isopropyl) to kill any diseases, fungus, viruses or bacteria picked up between cuts, especially if you know you are dealing with diseased wood. This keeps it from spreading from cut to cut - and tree to tree! Pine pitch can also accumulate on your cutters, so wiping with alcohol or hand sanitizer helps remove it. 

Sharp Equipment:  getting started pictures

Nothing is more dangerous than trying to cut with dull equipment. Sharp tools also make the job go quicker! 

Dropcloth & Yard Waste Bags: 

Catch trimmings on the cloth for easy cleanup and keep limbs bagged to prevent spreading problems around in the wind. It also keeps your area looking spiffy. Having a rake and/or a broom on hand helps too!

Gloves & Long Sleeves:

Protect your hands and arms from cuts and scratches, while also protecting yourself from the sticky Pine pitch. Alcohol or hand sanitizer removes the sap from your hands. While a cotton ball or rag dipped in rubbing alcohol helps soak off the pitch from clothing, then just wash normally. Large gobs can be scraped off with a straight-edged tool.

Reasons for Pruning:

  • Annual checkup - Remove diseased, crossed, broken, & shaded out interior branches
  • Tip pruning, aka Candle Pruning, promotes fuller, thicker growth
  • Improve shape & form. Manage wild, uneven growth
  • Low-hanging growth that may become a hazard
  • Young trees that need training 
  • Encourage a balanced, open canopy
  • Remove branches growing at a 30 degree - weak joints that break in storms
  • Remove any double leaders - They make your tree prone to wind, snow damage and breakage. Choose the strongest, straightest trunk and prune away the others flush to the trunk

Pruning Pines 101:

When pruning damaged or diseased growth, be careful to leave the collar intact. The collar is the swollen-looking bulge that swells around the base of the branch where it attaches to the main trunk.  pruning types graphic

  • Prune at a 45-60 degree angle, slanted upwards so water can runoff
  • If thinning or removing diseased wood, remove the entire limb

For large limbs, over 1-½ inches in diameter, use the ‘Double Cut’ method to prevent the weight of the branch from pulling or tearing the collar. Using a saw or large loppers:

  • Start about a foot from the trunk, make an undercut about halfway through
  • A couple of inches closer to the trunk from the 1st cut, perform a downwards 2nd cut, removing the branch 
  • Lastly, remove the remaining stump flush with the collar

For smaller branches, use a pruning saw or hand pruners to remove branches, cutting back to an outward-facing node or crossing branches.

Candle Pruning Your Pine

candle pruning pictures

Pine trees form new growth each spring, developing several upright growing, bright green sprouts referred to as ‘Candles’. Tip pruning your Pine Tree, or ‘Candle Pruning’ as it’s also called, is easy! In fact, you’ll often not even need tools at all unless the branch is very high. Simply snap or pinch them off cleanly, if compact new growth is desired.

Prune your tree in spring after you see at least 4-6 inches of new candle growth. Don’t Candle Prune any other time of year. Usually, there is one central, longer candle in the center surrounded by several shorter ones. Choose the centermost sprout, or all of them for pruning, removing about a third to half of each candle’s growth.

On young plants, avoid using pruners or a knife, since it will cut all the needles and create browned and unsightly tips. Instead, pinch or snap off by hand. The needles will not be harmed and each tip forms a new bud next year.

Candle pruning is best done on young Pine trees and reduces the overall size over time while retaining the tree’s natural appearance. This works with all varieties of Pine Tree including dwarf and Mugo! It is not recommended to shear Pine trees. Precautions graphic


Don’t cover pruning cuts with tree paint because healthy trees heal great on their own. This paint often causes more problems than it solves. Timing is more important so as not to cause your tree to drip sap or become stressed.

Remember - Take off small amounts at a time! Less is more when it comes to pruning! You can’t reattach your mistakes and it will take years for your tree to fill in after accidents. 

Be careful only to prune actively growing tips. Pruning back to where there are no needles, will not encourage new growth. Pine Trees don’t resprout from old wood and you’ll be left with permanent bare spots.

Don’t hesitate to Contact Us for horticultural advice on your trees bought at or check with your County Extension Office when you have any doubts! 

Year-Round Beauty! other evergreen pictures

Pruning isn’t as daunting as it seems and you’ll enjoy its lasting effects for the life of your Tree! Pine Trees allow you to enjoy a full year-round greenery show to delight you and your wildlife! While they shrink into the background during spring and summer flower displays, they take the center stage to enliven the autumn colors and show their stuff all winter! 

You’ll be thrilled to have more of these evergreen beauties to enhance your garden through the bleak winter months! Visit Nature Hills Garden Blog today for more ways to get the most out of your Pine Trees and Landscape!

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