When And How To Prune
When and How to Prune
Techniques for can differ dramatically from plant to plant.
Is it a tree or a bush that your pruning? Trees need central leaders, or primary trunks, while bushes have multiple stems…pruning differs greatly between the two. (Not to mention that each bush and tree has it’s own unique twist on pruning….)
Does it flower or fruit in spring? Do the flowers bloom on old wood or new growth? Prune in early spring for some plants, and you’ll loose all of the flowers that were prepared to bloom once out of dormancy.
Knowing can be overwhelming to say the least.
Let’s look at some very basic guidelines for your landscaping plants to get you started in the right direction.
As your skill level increases, you can search the web for more specifics for the type of landscaping bushes or trees you’re working with. If you’re looking for info on how to prune very specific plants, enter the following into the search engine: prune ‘plant name’ site:edu The results that you get will be those that are written by educational centers, and are likely to be more researched and qualified answers.
When and how to prune-Use sanitized tools!
Why is this important?
Think of it this way….if a human gets sick, they can spread their illness through touch, right? The “germs” are spread by shaking hands, on door knobs, through the air, etc.
Well, the same principle applies to plants. Germs (viruses or bacteria) can be spread through the air and through touch depending on the disease.
Let’s take powdery mildew, for example. Most people know that this is the white powdery substance that appears on many plants throughout the year…lilacs, phlox, pumpkin plants, etc. This disease can attach itself to a pruning device, gloves, or clothes and shoes, and can be transferred from one plant to another.
To reduce this possibility, it is extremely important to disinfect your tools between uses.
This means, when you are done pruning one plant and before you move to the next plant, you should disinfect your tools. It is also recommend that you disinfect BETWEEN cuttings on the same plant if you know that you are working with a diseased plant.
I wouldn’t necessarily disinfect between cuttings, however, if the plant is healthy.
To disinfect your tools, the following substances have been recommended by experts:
- 70% isopropyl alcohol
- 10% bleach solution
- 25% Lysol/Pinsol solution
- Lysol/Pinsol full strength
You’ll find many different theories on what’s the best solution to use, however this is what I’ve heard from many experts in the field…
Many carry a spray bottle of isopropyl alcohol and spray their tools between cuttings, wiping them off each time. Others carry a bucket of isopropyl alcohol and soak their tools as they are pruning, and as they go from plant to plant…wiping them off each time before use.
You do not want to place any disinfectant on the plant, or the plant cut, as this will do further damage to the cut, could open the plant up to infection as a result, and could reduce the plant’s ability to heal properly.
But the latest recommendation seems to be to use household disinfectant, such as Lysol or Pinsol, full strength. This is the method that I use. I carry a spray bottle with the substance with me as I am pruning, and spray between cuts as necessary (for diseased plants) and between plants for healthy plants.
This method seems to be the least corrosive to tools, while using a substance such as bleach can be the most corrosive and damaging.
It’s easy to want to skip this step, but don’t! Disease prevention is key to a healthy landscape!
When and How to Prune-Make the proper cut!
I’m not going to get into a lot of detail here. You can get a thorough explanation on where to place your cut from this very detailed article written by two experienced Horticulturists, Follow Proper Pruning Techniques.
What I will give you are the basics.
First of all, make the cut on a slant. Do not make a flat cut across the stem that is parallel to the ground. This will increase the possibility of infection as water can pool on top of this cut. While plants need water to survive, any water that does not quickly run off their leaves and stems will create a greater potential for disease.
In this same vein….make sure the cuts angle away from the center,
or base of the plant. Water will run off that cut, and you don’t want
it to pool in the center, again, increasing the potential for disease.
your cuts slightly above a bud on the stem. Cutting too close
to the bud could damage it, and prevent it from branching out (one of
the goals of pruning) and cutting too far from the bud could lead to the
end of the branch dying back. Any dead branches on the plant are
taking energy from the plant that could be used for healthy growth.
When and How to Prune-Best when plants are dormant!
The best time to prune for each plant is completely dependent on the type of plant you’re working with. For some, it’s after bloom time, for others, it’s before to encourage new growth.
One general rule of thumb is to prune when plants are dormant. This is particularly true if you’re doing ‘hard’ pruning, such as taking off more than 1/3 of the plant’s growth. Pruning back too severely during the growing season, will put the plant into shock which could result in long term damage.
However, be aware that if you are pruning a flowering bush, you MAY cut off the upcoming season’s flowers if you prune during dormancy.
I have 2 lilac bushes. I want to prune them back very hard because of the powdery mildew I had last year, and because of the irregular growth pattern. I’d like to ‘set them straight’ so to speak, and start fresh.
Heavy pruning can work well for lilacs that are struggling, however you will lose the upcoming season’s blooms. Because of this, I pruned only one of the bushes heavily this year, and will prune the other one back heavily next year. At least I will only loose half of my lilac flowers instead of them all.
When and How to Prune-Tis’ better to prune than not to prune!
While it may be BEST to prune when the plant is dormant, many plants are well equipped to handle a good amount of pruning during the growing season, and it is often better to prune at the wrong time, than to not prune at all.
I know you’re probably dazzled and delighted by my artwork skills here, but hopefully this will illustrate what we’re talking about.
The bush on top was not pruned at all. This is what will happen to a bush that is left to its own devices. The few stems that are there will grow long and spindly, with very little growth filling in the area.
A very unattractive bush indeed!
But the bush that is pruned regularly, fills in nicely with a desired rounded growing habit.
When a bush sets out a branch, that branch is trying to play king of the mountain, and sends out hormones along the rest of that branch to prohibit growth from any of the side buds. This results in a long, spindly bush.
But when that process is interrupted by pruning, say every 6, 12, or 18 inches along the branch, other branches burst into action to make up for the growth that is lost. Wherever a cut is made on one branch, at least 2 to 4 branches start growing at the cutting point.
I hope this information on has been helpful to you and helps you get your feet wet in the pruning arena. Select a bush in your yard that you are not necessarily too attached to, and start practicing on that one. Or better yet, buy a fast growing bush like forsythia, and hone your pruning skills.
One word of CAUTION! This information does NOT pertain to evergreen bushes! Those plants require very specific pruning techniques as their green leaves will not grow back if cut off. The techniques described on this page pertain only to deciduous plants that lose their leaves every year.
Pruning trees differs greatly as well! More information on the specifics of pruning trees can be found at this site.
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