This is a subject folks frequently ask me. The following is rather simplistic, but important none the less. Pruning is a chore all gardeners must perform. Many folks avoid it, and results are seldom pretty. There are several reasons we prune, and many are seasonally dependent.
Flowering is a major consideration. Most spring blooming shrubs and trees bloom on the previous season’s wood. Examples are dogwood, azalea, rhododendron, cherry, lilac, forsythia, and most fruit trees. Some trees like apples and pears flower on two-year-old wood, so pruning can be a little more complicated. Except for fruit trees and grapes, most spring blooming trees and shrubs bloom on the previous season’s growth, and therefore should not be pruned until they bloom.
Trees and shrubs that bloom on the current season’s growth usually can be pruned any time. Fall and winter are fine. Vitex, butterfly bush, abelia, Loropetalum, spiraea, and crape myrtle are examples of these. Most needled evergreens can be pruned during the dormant season, and I prefer to prune oak trees then as well to reduce the spread of oak wilt.
Sometimes plants need to be pruned to change or improve their form. Sometimes they have simply outgrown their space. Here it gets tricky. Most deciduous trees and shrubs and many broadleaved ones may be cut back to a point where there is no foliage left and still recover. Most needled evergreens cannot be without killing the plant. Sometimes it is necessary to perform a renewal pruning, which means cutting the plant down to the ground or nearly so. If that specimen is a yew, pine, fir, spruce or similar needled plant, the only option is usually a truck and a chain or maybe a chainsaw and a stump grinder.
Another reason plants require severe pruning is when they encounter damage from storms or machinery. Under these circumstances, it may be necessary to prune at typically the wrong time of year. That’s the way it goes sometimes.
If a larger tree falls on your favorite dogwood during a fall hurricane or winter ice storm you might need to remove some branches and shape other ones to try to restore proper shape. This would mean sacrificing bloom for a year. Sometimes that is a small price to pay.
Pruning has some basic rules, like using disinfected tools to avoid cross-contamination and performing each cut as close to the top of a bud as possible. Using the appropriate tool can avoid ragged wounds, which invite disease organisms. In general, dead wood may be removed any time. It’s already dead.
Proper mowing is the most important management decision to your lawn. Likewise, proper pruning is arguably the most important decision to established landscape plants. Proper watering is the most important task for newly planted trees and shrubs.
If you have any questions, please feel free to contact us via email, phone, or at the nursery and we will do what we can.
As you know, this is a job that almost no so-called ‘gardeners’ know anything about anymore. They ‘prune’ everything in the same manner, with the same motorized hedge shears. As a native of the Santa Clara Valley, I learned about pruning deciduous fruit trees properly. It is meticulous work. I almost never see anyone do it properly anymore.
So true, but we still must try to teach even if we have to dumb it down.