Landscape Now: Taking The Mystery Out Of Pruning
Saturday, October 19, 2013
Five Helpful Pruning Guidelines
1. Learn to identify the plants you will be pruning.
I am not asking you to take a Latin course to memorize all the Genus and species names for your plants (although that would be very helpful for serious gardeners!), but learn the identity of your major landscape trees, shrubs and perennials. Some plants need to be pruned in the spring, some after flowering and some can be handled in the fall or even the winter. Pruning at the wrong time (forsythia in the fall) can remove flower buds that will eliminate flowers for the spring. Local garden centers, nurseries, gardening books like Michael Dirr’s Manual of Landscape Plants, or looking up plants online will help you to find out the plant’s name, growth habit and the best time to prune.
2. Have a purpose when you prune!
- Maintenance of plant health: Make sure to prune out all dead, diseased or injured wood. Thinning out of weak, rubbing, crossing or crowded stems will improve the health of the plant...letting in more light and removing sources of disease and infection.
- Control of growth: Depending on the plant variety and location in your garden, controlling plant growth will help to keep plants in proportion to the rest of your garden and prevent them from becoming unshapely. One way to minimize pruning for growth is to choose plants that will mature to a size that is appropriate to your landscape design.
- Encourage yield: Pruning to maximize blooms, increase fruit set and size and increasing the number and quality of leaves can be accomplished through timely pruning techniques.
- Special purposes: If you require a tight hedge then careful shearing can promote a uniform shape will be called for. Training an apple tree as an espalier will require time and patience, but can happen with due diligence in pruning, staking and wiring the plant.
3. Research the optimum time to prune your plants.
4. Assemble the correct tools to do the job.
Determine the best tool to use depending on the type and scale of pruning to be done...and be willing to call in experts when facing large tree or complex projects. Most of the pruning you will do can be done with sharp hand pruners. Pruning saws are effective when removing small limbs on flowering or shade trees. Extension pruners will help with higher limbs and loppers with limbs too thick for your hand pruner. Shears can be the tool of choice for your hedges...but not your azaleas, rhododendrons or hydrangeas! All tools need to be sharp, clean and used safely.
5. Be an educated, selective pruner.
I have been pruning for over 30 years and still learn new things every day about pruning. Learning about plants, their growth habits and times to be pruned will help you to move forward with confidence. Identify the pruning purpose (cutting back, removing dead limbs or thinning out) and begin pruning selectively. Periodically, step back and look at your efforts...this will prevent the Rambo moments when you realize you have gone too far! I personally find pruning to be a meditative activity...concentrating on the next pruning move and ultimate goal of the activity...and not my cell phone, employees or worrying about what’s up next. You may find that you actually enjoy pruning, giving you an outlet to relax ...and accomplish your yard work at the same time!
In my next article I will describe techniques to prepare your landscape for winter!
“I always think of a show like a plant-a little pruning now and then keeps it healthy, but you shouldn’t pull it out and chop the roots up.” —Len Goodman
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