Pruning a Needle-Bearing Evergreen

Evergreens with needle-like foliage usually need pruning only to remove dead, damaged, or diseased limbs. You can also prune to keep their growth compact. Pruning methods vary depending on the conifer's branching habit.

Globosa Blue Spruce Makes Excellent Landscape Tree

Globosa Blue Spruce Makes Excellent Landscape Tree

Tools and Materials

  • Hand pruners
  • Loppers
  • Safety glasses
  • Leather gloves

Step 1: Determine branching habit.

Conifers with whorled branches, such as pine, spruce, and fir, have layers of branches around the trunk. Species with random branching, such as arborvitae, juniper, yew, and falsecypress, have limbs that occur all along the trunk.

Decide reason and season for pruning. Remove dead, damaged, or diseased limbs at any time of the year, regardless of branching habit, by cutting just outside the raised rings at the base of the limb. The branching habit matters most when pruning for compact growth, although both types should be pruned in spring before soft, new growth matures.

Step 2: Pinch candles.

Conifers have new shoots called "candles". To promote dense branching and shorter limbs, pinch candles before their needles lengthen and harden. On species with whorled branches, take care not to cut into older wood below the candle because these conifers have few or no dormant buds that can become new limbs.

Step 3: Redirect growth.

Conifers with random branching habits can sprout new limbs from older, foliage-bearing wood. Prune into this wood, if necessary, to make the conifer more compactly branched or to change the direction of the branch. To redirect growth, prune back to a side branch that is growing in a more desirable direction.

Step 4: Maintain straight trunk.

If two central shoots or leaders exist at the top of a pyramid-shaped conifer, remove one of them to maintain a straight, unforked trunk. If the central leader has died, create a new one by bending an uppermost limb into an upright position and securing it in place with stretchy fabric and a wooden splint. Remove ties when it can stand on its own.


Allow pyramid and column-shaped conifers to retain their natural shape by leaving their lower limbs intact. Instead of pruning, mulch around the tree to reduce mowing conflict.

Choose naturally slow growing dwarf conifers for small spaces. Many conifer trees species have dwarf varieties available.

Keep Reading

Next Up

How to Plant Evergreens in Containers

Learn how to properly plant evergreens in containers to keep color alive in your garden all year around.

How to Prune Shrubs

When you prune a shrub depends mostly on when it blooms. Here are the basics of pruning woody plants.

Pruning Roses During Winter

See why you should prune your roses when it's chilly outside.

Late Winter and Early Spring Pruning Guide

Get ready for late winter and early spring pruning chores.

Deadheading and Pruning Container Plants

To make sure that flowering plants continue to bloom for a long time, and to keep shrubs and climbers healthy, prolific and in good shape, you need two techniques: deadheading and pruning. Both are quick, simple and highly effective.

How and When to Prune Blueberry Bushes

To keep them producing well, blueberry bushes need to be pruned every year.

Wildflower Gardening

Love wildflowers? Create a meadow using these tips as a guide.


Fixer Upper

7am | 6c

Fixer Upper

8am | 7c

Fixer Upper

9am | 8c

Fixer Upper

10am | 9c

Fixer Upper

11am | 10c

Fixer Upper

12pm | 11c

Fixer Upper

1pm | 12c
On Tonight
On Tonight

Beachfront Bargain Hunt

8pm | 7c

Caribbean Life

9:30pm | 8:30c

Island Life

10pm | 9c

Island Life

10:30pm | 9:30c

Hawaii Life

11pm | 10c

Hawaii Life

11:30pm | 10:30c

Caribbean Life

12am | 11c

Caribbean Life

12:30am | 11:30c

Island Life

1am | 12c

Island Life

1:30am | 12:30c

Hawaii Life

2am | 1c

Hawaii Life

2:30am | 1:30c

Follow Us Everywhere

Join the party! Don't miss HGTV in your favorite social media feeds.