When you are up to your elbows in spring gardening and lawn maintenance, don’t forget that now is also a great time to do a little pruning of your trees and shrubs.
Pruning means removing plant parts – typically fronds, shoots, branches and flowers – to boost health, control growth and improve blooming. You can also prune the roots if they are close to the trunk. It’s a routine part of maintenance, and it shouldn’t be put off until the trees are overgrown.
Overgrown plants are tall and leggy with very little foliage near the ground, making it harder to prune to a desired size without severely damaging the plants. That’s why if you’re at that point, prune overgrown trees and shrubs in stages over several years.
Over time, trees and shrubs can outgrow the space allotted to them. If so, pruning is critical to keep plants in bounds. It’s easy to maintain a uniform size and shape of trees and hedges if you stick to a regular schedule.
Most trees and shrubs benefit from being pruned back each year. Pruning helps your trees keep their shape, gets rid of dead and diseased limbs – and helps new growth to flourish.
The more flowers or fruit are on a plant, the smaller each fruit or flower is. Pruning reduces the amount of wood and diverts energy to produce larger, healthier (but fewer) flowers or fruit. Most flowering shrubs bloom either on one-year-old growth – or on new growth. Pruning helps you increase wood production that will bear flowers or fruit.
To maintain plant health, get rid of any dead, dying or diseased wood you see. Any dying branch is the perfect entry point for insects and disease to quickly spread. When trimming dead branches, use a sharp sterile blade and remove the dying growth all the way back to the healthy wood.
Here are a few quick reminders on pruning shrubs.
There are two main techniques, and it’s key you do them both in moderation: Thinning and “heading back.” Thinning means removing the entire branch back to the main branch or stem. Heading back just means shortening the branch’s length.
Problems can arise if you do either of these techniques to the exclusion of the other. Do a combination of each to keep your plants at the size, shape and density you want.
Thinning regularly helps you prevent disease and maintain good form in all your plants. Even evergreen shrubs benefit from an occasional thinning of their foliage. Thinning allows light and air to penetrate throughout the plant, so you get even better overall growth.
Here are some tips for successfully pruning trees.
- Twigs and small branches. Always cut back to a vigorous bud or an intersecting branch. When cutting back to a bud, choose a bud that points in the direction you want for the new growth. Be sure not to cut too close to the bud.
- Thick, heavy branches. Remove large branches so they are flush with the “collar” at the branch’s base. The collar is a larger area of tissue at the base and it contains a protective zone to prevent decay. If you accidentally cut too low to the branch base, the protection is removed and you are at risk of a serious trunk wound.
- Forget the old “paint” technique when you have cut the branch flush to the trunk. For years, folks have done the flush-cut-and-paint routine. Simply put, don’t. Flush-cutting increases the risk of tree injury – and the paint can trap moisture and add to disease problems.
When it comes to pruning, a simple rule of thumb is this. Don’t overdo it but do it regularly. Generally once a year will keep you in good shape. And use the sharpest shears possible, so you get clean cuts with no frayed edges.