April Checklist Part Two: Pruning

We use two terms when applied to reducing the size of a plant, trimming and pruning. Although they accomplish the same task, they have different tools and applications.

Trimming is usually done to reduce mass in a hedge or create a geometric shape, taken to the extreme it is the way animals are maintained in theme parks. Hedge clippers either manual, gas, electric or hydraulic powered are used for shearing plants for a more formal appearance.

Pruning always done by hand, focuses on bud development is done by using hand pruners, lopping pruners and saws. Each branch is pruned individually and with regard to bud growth. Obviously this takes practice, patience, education and a lot of time to accomplish. It is worth it.

Plants primarily have three types of buds: Primary or Dominant – These naturally develop within plant development.  Secondary – May develop but not unless needed. Latent or Suckers – Usually develop when the plant is stressed usually environmentally caused. Tomato plants are notorious for this. The suckers develop at the point where the branch contacts the trunk and can be taken off as they appear.

The advantage to the plant that is pruned is a looser, but healthier plant. If you look at an evergreen that is trimmed into a ball you will not see any green once you get past the outside. On a pruned shrub, bud growth extends to the interior of the plant and although occasional thinning may be needed, is it better for the plants.

The question of shaping usually comes up at this time. If you take your time you can achieve the same results. Here are a few guidelines as landscape gardeners we all agree to. With hedging, the top should be narrower than the base, equal at worst, and never wider than the bottom. For a clean look, use a tape and string with pins to decide width of base, it looks great when done. Measure the height. Also, taken at the shortest point and again at each end, put up stakes and run a string so it is longer (do not cut string). The goal is to have uniform width and height through the hedge. For a finished look on the bottom, prune stragglers so the foliage is the same distance for the ground through the row.

Deciduous shrubs can be pruned the same as evergreens and most flowering shrubs should be pruned after flowering in order not to remove next season’s flowers. As always there are exceptions and exclusions and a good plant book is worth every penny.

Severe pruning is better left to a professional and will be less expensive in the long run.

That said there is nothing in horticulture more subjective that shaping material.

Fruit trees, fruit bearing vines, flowering vines, hydrangeas and roses should be researched individually.

Flowering bulbs which come up now, after flowering if not being split, should be tied over and allowed to yellow (die back) to the ground the bulb receives nutrients from this process.

Transplanting, when necessary, is best done during cooler weather and not while plants are producing new growth.

Seasonal pruning is a reality to keep plants neat and full. A well planned landscape will keep this task to a minimum. The time spent planning and researching the correct size plant is time well spent. And finally when pruning is done in the late summer or fall non growth that has not matured will be subject to frost damage. As always consult with a reputable garden center or landscaper with specific questions. We are in this field by choice and are willing to help.

Terry Stiles

Margaret, this along with the planting article needs to be ran together.

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Volume 7, Issue 8, Posted 8:28 AM, 04.20.2011