Pruning Basics For Trees And Shrubs

Don't be afraid to prune your deciduos trees and flowering shrubs! Done correctly, you will see strong new growth and lots of flowers and fruit!

A plant actually responds positively to a little "haircut", providing it's been done properly, with the right tools, and at the right time of year.

Tools for pruning are simple and inexpensive. A good pair of clippers with a bypass blade is best for branches under 3/4". Usually the package they come in will state the largest diameter branch that you can cut with them. Any branch between 3/4" and 1 1/2" in diameter should be cut with loppers. These are simply large long-handled clippers for a larger job. For branches larger than 1 1/2", use a pruning saw. The plants appreciate the clean cut of the proper tool. You will, too. The right tools make any job easier.

There are several reasons for pruning:

1) to remove dead and diseased wood.

2) to increase the growth of the plant

3) to control the plant's shape and size

4) to increase light and air circulation within the canopy

5) to increase flowering and fruiting

By pruning, you are forcing new, stronger growth that makes a healthier plant. When you cut off a part, the growing energy that went into that part goes to the remainder of the plant, producing new, lush growth. So don't be afraid of pruning!

Timing is important for flowering shrubs. Those that flower in early spring should be pruned as soon as the flowers have gone by. The plant will have the entire season to put on new leaves and buds, which will flower the following spring. Forsythia, lilacs, and azaleas are examples of this group.

Late season bloomers flower on the growth of that year. Prune them when they are dormant in late winter or very early spring. Butterfly bush and hydrangeas fall into this category. This time of year is also the proper time to prune deciduous trees and fruit trees.

Get your tools and begin. All cuts should be made on a diagonal, so that water will shed off it away from the center of the plant. Cut no more that 1/8" from a crotch or bud.

First remove the winterkill, which is the dead brown ends of the branches. Then remover the dead wood. This part can be left until summer when it is more noticeable (it'll have no leaves).

The next step is to remove branches that are crossed or touching. They get damaged as they rub against each other. damaged branches allow diseases to enter. Leave the branch that is going in the better direction of the two.

Now look at the shape of the plant, and, maintaining that shape, remove extra branches inside it. This allows light and air to get in and create a healthy environment. Branches you leave should be able to grow outwards and upwards.

Hard pruning, or cutting back very far, is okay once every several years, depending on the particular plant. Some older neglected plants need this to be rejuvenated. But done too often it will stress the plant, and eventually kill it. A general rule of thumb is to remove 1/3 of the plant.

With proper pruning, your plant will reward you with strong new growth and an abundance of flowers and fruit.

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