Pruning is the act of selectively trimming plant material in order to direct growth. This is done to promote better flowering or fruiting, accentuate a plants natural form or increase it's vigor. Everyone who gardens will eventually utilize pruning to maintain their plants health or appearance, so if you're uncertain about how to prune a specific plant visit one of our four locations and let us walk you through the process. Or, join us for one of our free weekend workshops:
When is the best time to prune?
For the majority of plants, the best time to prune is in late winter to early spring. This is because a dormant plant is less likely to have a stress reaction to the removal of limbs and foliage.
It's better to prune towards the end of the dormant season because:
- Dense branches can help insulate a plant from frost damage, so you want to leave them on during the coldest parts of winter
- Late winter is right before new growth happens in spring, so a plant is ready to close off the wound as quickly as possible when it starts growing as soon as the weather warms up
- Deciduous plants have no leaves, so it's easier to see their natural forms and access the branches which need to be pruned
Fruit trees, roses, perennials (such as lavender and sage), grasses and most shrubs are pruned at this time of year. Fruit trees and roses can be pruned in several different ways depending on their type, age and desired use.
Click the link below for tips on pruning roses:
Click the link below for tips on pruning fruit trees for the home gardener:
There are some exceptions to the rule, some plants should not be pruned in late winter to early spring.
The following categories of plants should be pruned at different times of year:
- Apricots and cherries are susceptible to fungal and bacterial infections, and open pruning wounds in cooler weather can exasperate the issue. They should both be pruned after fruiting in late summer or fall.
- Trees, shrubs and vines which bloom in spring are blooming on old wood, meaning wood that developed the previous year. As a general rule, any shrub or tree which blooms in spring should be pruned shortly after they've finished blooming.
- Hydrangeas- if you have an everblooming variety of Hydrangea such as the 'Endless Summer'® or 'Let's Dance'® series, they can be pruned throughout the year. The varieties which bloom annually shouldn't be pruned after mid-August.
What types of pruning cuts are there?
Heading: Heading cuts prune away the tip of a branch, or it's terminal shoot. This is usually done to stop a branch from growing longer, and encourage bushy growth from lateral shoots. A heading cut on the main leader of a tree, is known as topping. Topping will stunt the tree from growing taller, and is not generally recommended.
Thinning: Thinning cuts (pictured) are where you select a lateral branch you would like to shorten, trace it back to it's point of origin, and cutting it off there. Thinning reduces size while maintaining a plant's natural form–ideal for pruning Japanese Maples. For plants which send up branches in a clumping pattern directly from the ground, the branch is traced back and cut at ground level.
Shearing: Shearing is a type of pruning in which a lot of small branches are cut with "heading" cuts all at once, usually flush to the same level vertically or horizontally. Shearing encourages dense, uniform lateral growth for a neat and trimmed form–typically to maintain hedges and topiaries.
Note: Whenever shearing a hedge, always shear it at a slight angle like a pyramid, where the base is wider than the top, so that the top of the hedge doesn't cast shade and prevent light from reaching the lower branches.
Pinching: Pinching is a way of preventing a bud from developing into a branch or flower. It is generally only done to new growth or herbaceous plants, anything soft enough to be severed with your fingers. This method is good for directing growth of young plants, and preventing flowering or fruiting.