Pruning tips


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.

About tedmanzer

I grew up in Old Town Maine and got a B.S. at the University of Maine in Plant Sciences/ minor in Botany. From there I moved to West Virginia and earned a M.S. in Agronomy at WVU. I also met my wife there. She grew up in rural WV as the daughter of tenant farmers who raised cattle and hogs. Their lifestyle at times was one of subsistence and I learned a lot from them. I've always been a foraging buff, but combining my formal botanical knowledge with their practical 'Foxfire-type' background opened up my eyes a little more. I recently retired from teaching high school agriculture after 25 years teaching with my wife. Until recently I wrote a weekly nature/foraging column for the local paper (dailyadvance.com). I also have written several Christian nature/adventure novels that can be purchased on Amazon in Kindle format. One is a five book family saga I call the 'Forgotten Virtues' series. In the first book, Never Alone (presently out of print), a young boy comes of age after his father dies in a plane crash, and he has to make it alone. The second book, Strange Courage, takes Carl from his High School graduation to his recovery from a nasty divorce. The third book, Second Chances, takes Carl from his ex-wife's death and the custody of his son to his heroic death at age 59. The fourth book, Promises Kept, depicts how his grandchildren react and adjust to his death (this one is not yet published). In the final book, Grandfather's Way, his youngest and most timid granddaughter emerges from the shadow of her overachieving family and accomplishes more in four months than most do in a lifetime. I use many foraging references with a lot of the plants I profile in these articles in those books. I also wrote a romance novel titled Virginia. It is available on Amazon and is a different type of romance from a man's perspective.
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2 Responses to Pruning tips

  1. tonytomeo says:

    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.

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