Pruning Conifers. Needle-leafed evergreens fall into two basic groups: random branching and whorled branching. Each requires a different pruning technique.

Evergreens with random-branching patterns — arborvitae, hemlock, juniper, and yew — should be pruned in the same manner as a flowering tree or shrub. Use heading cuts to encourage dense growth and thinning cuts made close to the trunk to maintain the tree's shape. One important difference: Heading cuts will only sprout new branches if the remaining branch still has needles growing on it.

Whorled-branching evergreens — fir, spruce, and pine — are quite different. These plants have pale growth buds, called candles, that develop at the branch tips in the spring. Instead of making heading cuts, use your thumb and forefinger to pinch off the new, light-colored growths while they're still soft. This will maintain plant size and produce denser growth. You won't want to make thinning cuts to whorled-branching evergreens — they will produce a dead snag, not new growth. The only exception is spruce trees: They have side buds that will sprout if trimmed back to the previous year's growth.
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