Pruning: Understanding the Basics of How to Prune Your Plants

If pruning your plants confuses you, don’t be upset. Many gardeners are scared to take-on this seemingly complicated chore and hire professionals to do the job for them. Pruning, however, can be easy when you learn the proper techniques.

First of all, you need to understand why you need to prune. Generally, pruning is done for a lot of reasons, including controlling the size of the plant, to increase or decrease the density of the plant, to create shapes in the plants, improve the plant’s health, to maximize the flowering, and even improving light in the garden. These are only a few of the reasons to prune and given time, you’ll designate other reasons why.

Once you understand why you want to prune, you can then understand the best time of year to prune. Generally, the rule of thumb for damaged, diseased, or dead plants, is to prune anytime of the year. Obviously, if you have dead and dying branches, you want to remove them or if there is disease growing on the branches, you’ll want to cut off the branch immediately before allowing the disease to grow out of control.

It is also safe to do very light pruning anytime of the year. For example, if you simply have a stray branch, you can get rid of it immediately and not have to worry about the correct timing of such pruning.

A major thing to remember when it comes to deciduous trees is not to prune in the spring or fall when their sap is running. Both winter or summer pruning are a safe bet. To prune such trees, you want to remember not to cut off the end of a branch that more than three-inches in diameter. This will allow the growth of water sprouts, which will cut off the light to the inner area. You should instead, bring the branch to a fork, leaving the collar, which will allow the tissue of the tree to grow over the wound caused by the pruning. For branches less than the three-inches in diameter, you can use selective pruning and when pruning the buds from the tree, remember to use the proper tools, such as hand pruners.

For some conifers, such as yellow cedars, hemlock, and junipers, the best time to prune is in the spring or summer if you are looking to control their size or increase the density of the plant. You’ll want to use hedge trimmers for this chore if you want your conifers to look like a hedge. Otherwise, you’ll want to use your pruners to cut back into a fork, instead of a tip. You’ll also want to alternate your cuts and not cut each branch to the same length.

For clustered-needle conifers, such as the pines and firs, you can control their size by snapping off all or each part of the new growth, called candles, with your hand. These types of plants generally spurt their growth in the spring or early summer, when you can prune them, however, do not prune like this after July as it can cause distorted growth. You can also prune them to thin the plant by using pruners and cutting the branch to a fork. Generally, this can be done any time of the year.

When it comes to shrubs that grow flowers or fruits, you’ll want to know when they will flower-spring or summer. Remember not to cut the branches until they have flowered or their fruit is set. If the shrub flowers in the spring, you’ll want to prune late spring or early summer, once the flowers have all died off. For shrubs that flower or fruit in the summer, you’ll want to wait until the fruit and seeds have gone, so you can prune them in late winter or early spring.

Again, remember to avoid pruning deciduous shrubs while their sap is running and whether you are pruning your shrubs, trees, or roses, if you remember why you are pruning, you’ll understand when you can prune.

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