Yvonne’s Basic Pruning Overview

Feb 12, 2017

0101171625c-hdr_origWhat a great way to end 2016 and begin 2017—with lots of rain! Yay! So glorious to relish each gentle drop over long hours so the soil was able to absorb all the goodness… and then have those downpours that really filled the soil’s air pores so the moisture could sink deeply down into rootzones. Love it! With the promise of more on-and-off-again showers at least through the coming week, I’m definitely looking forward to continually happy trees and plants!

Yesterday, I went up the hill to document all the wonderful color and lush edibles flourishing in the chill. The glory of living in Southern California was so apparent. Sharing it all with you here!


Please note: Stay out of the garden for at least 2 days following a rain so 1) the soil is not compacted by being walked on, 2) disease is not spread by brushing up against wet foliage—disease organisms can be transferred to new branches in wet weather, and 3) new entry cuts created by pruning won’t be at risk of disease.


Pruning Tasks Through Mid-February
The big tasks of the month—really through about mid-February when tree fruit blossoms start opening—are planting bareroot fruit trees and roses, and pruning to guide new growth.

If you can, attend as many of the various workshops available at botanic gardens and nurseries as you can to increase your comfort level in dealing with your own plants.  See the “Upcoming Events” on my homepage, and also the “Botanic Gardens…” listing on the “Events” menu item page.

Truly, try not to get too worried about ruining your plants with your first attempts at pruning. The plants want to grow, so chances are they’ll survive whatever you do to them. And then you’ll observe what the results were and consequently how to alter your efforts next time around.

In addition, with more recent recommendations to accomplish “summer” pruning—which really means pruning to guide growth throughout the year—you needn’t feel that you have only this one chance each year to do it correctly. What a relief! Allow yourself to learn as you go, and your trees will reward you… maybe not this year but certainly after that!


Dancy tangerine

Dancy tangerine


I’ll discuss all of this in more detail in upcoming blogs, but for now, here are the basics to get you started:

Overall Guidelines

  • Remove broken, crossing, or diseased branches
  • Keep height within desired range for easy harvesting


  • Trim just above outward-facing buds.
  • Cut out slender twiggy growth so energy reverts to strong canes.
  • Height is your choice – 12 inches, 18 inches, 3 feet, whatever you prefer relative to the strength of the plant.
  • Leave stub of no more than one-quarter of an inch. More will cause dieback that may extend further down the stem.


Mini rose

Mini rose



  • Trim down to bottom-most new buds.

Deciduous Fruit Trees

  • Object is to keep new growth limited to about six feet tall and wide for easy harvesting.
  • Cut back branches with buds about half way.

“Summer” Pruning Year Around

  • Trim back after flowering plants blossom, or trees fruit. This will encourage new growth that you can again cut back for fuller plant foliage and blossoming or fruiting within your desired height range.













Narcissus - Paperwhite

Narcissus – Paperwhite


Sweet peppers (below), “hot-weather” plants produce all winter long:




Artichoke (below): Notice the different foliage shapes; youngest leaves are uncut, more mature leaves have the distinctive cut margins:




Photo below: Cilantro (top right) almost ready for harvest by cutting just above the growing point. Parsley (bottom right) is more slow-growing. Beets (left side, 5 different varieties) needs weeks more for bulbs to reach 1.5 inches, my preferred size for harvest. If you want to harvest leaves a couple of times, you won’t get very large bulbs since you’re depleting the plant’s energy.







For more advice and insight from Yvonne Savio, please visit


Yvonne Savio grew up and still lives on a 3/4-acre hillside city lot in Pasadena, growing fruits, vegetables, and flowers year-round in manure- and compost-amended gardens. From years of gardening, she knows what “harvested at the perfect moment of ripeness” means and is passionate about enabling others to enjoy the benefits of “growing your own.”

Yvonne earned degrees in journalism, English literature, art and photography from California State University at Los Angeles and Sacramento; her horticulture degree is from American River College, Sacramento. For 15 years, she worked in the Botany and Vegetable Crops Cooperative Extension Departments at the University of California, Davis, where she conferred with Statewide Vegetable Specialists regarding cultural and postharvest handling techniques. In the early 1980s she helped initiate and develop the Master Gardener Program in Yolo County. From 1994-2015, she managed the Los Angeles County Master Gardener Program, teaching 1,183 volunteers who then helped 1.3 million residents to garden more sustainably.

Yvonne maintains demonstration and trial gardens in Southern and Northern California, specializing in drought-tolerant techniques for growing vegetables, fruits, perennials, roses, and succulents. She documents the creative fun stuff of repurposed tools and garden art. She loves chatting with gardening groups; for more of her presentation topics. see

More Yvonne Savio posts:
Nipped by Frost?


Justicia - shrimp plant

Justicia – shrimp plant





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