Landscaping: Pruning Guidelines
When we were just a couple of youngsters, one of us had a paper route while the other worked as a gardener for an aunt and uncle. The one of us that worked as the gardener began at the tender age of nine and finally moved on to construction during the summer after the first year in college. In spite of all the weed pulling, soil tilling, mowing, trimming and pruning performed during that decade, the experience led to a lifelong passion for gardening. Ironically, as adults, gardening has been one of our favorite hobbies.
One of the lessons learned early on in our gardening tutelage was the importance of pruning. Aside from making a tree, shrub or hedge more shapely and attractive, pruning can stimulate growth, control size, prevent disease and pest infestation. Pruning can also improve the production of flowering and/or fruit-bearing trees and shrubs.
Our first experience with pruning occurred in our aunt and uncle’s formal rose garden. Through the eyes of a youngster it looked like the gardens of Versailles. The rose garden consisted of six symmetric beds bordered on all sides by decorative concrete paths. Each bed was about 225 square feet and contained in the neighborhood of 16 rose buses – although at the time it seemed like hundreds.
Even though the rose bushes required trimming throughout the year, the major pruning occurred in late winter – after the last frost and before the tiny leaf buds began to make their way into the world. Consequently, we got plenty of pruning experience thanks to the rose garden. Even have the scars to prove it.
Whether you have a rose garden or a single rose bush pruning can help keep it healthy and bring out the best in it. The key to good pruning is knowing when to prune, the tools to use and how to avoid becoming a “bush butcher.”
Like the rose bushes mentioned earlier, the best season to prune most trees and shrubs – including summer-blooming bushes and shrubs — is in late Winter-early Spring – prior to the beginning of growth (during the dormant period). Start by pruning at ground level a few of the oldest canes from all mature shrubs, except the early flowering types. Remove weak, broken and crowded branches from dormant fruit trees. Head back branches that have flower buds. Prune evergreens of winter damaged wood and discolored foliage in spring.
Dead or diseased branches should be removed any time during the year. Failure to do so can mean the loss of a favorite shrub or tree. Don’t make the mistake of pruning your prized Spring-blooming bushes before they have the opportunity to bear their beauty. Wait till after the last bloom has blossomed and then pull out your pruning shears. Summer-blooming bushes and shrubs should be pruned in late winter or early spring. Prune shade trees such as maple, birch, walnut, and poplar during the fall and winter. Fruit trees should be pruned in late winter/early spring to enhance production.
Now that you know when to prune, having the right tools to prune with can make the job of pruning safer, easier and less stressful for your trees and shrubs. In addition, picking the right tool for the job ensures that your plants will heal more quickly:
- Hand pruners work well for small jobs, whereas loppers are best for larger jobs – up to two inches thick.
- Hedge shears are your best bet for – you guessed it – hedges, bushes and shrubs.
- A pole tree trimmer is a lifesaver for those hard-to-reach tree limbs.
- A pruning saw and a bow saw are best used for medium to big pruning jobs.
The two most popular hand pruning shears are the “anvil” and “bypass” styles. The anvil is best for cutting woody stems or dead wood up to three quarters of an inch in diameter. On the other hand, the bypass shear is best used for soft stems up to three quarters of an inch in diameter. It’s the one that we have the most experience with because it is recommended for roses. It allows cutting closer to the trunk of the plant, which means quicker healing of the bark. If you like cut flowers use the bypass because it won’t crush the end of the stems that could inhibit their ability to absorb water.
Whichever pruning tool you choose to use it is imperative that it be kept sharp, clean and lubricated. Remember a sharp tool will make the job of pruning easier and will allow the bark to heal sooner. Using sterile pruning tools will prevent the spread of disease. Sterilize pruning tools using a solution that consists of one and one-half cups of liquid chlorine bleach in two gallons of water. After each cut, dip the pruner or saw into this solution before starting the next cut. Be sure to clean and oil the tools after each use to prevent rust and keep them in tiptop working order.
We beg your pardon, we never promised you a rose garden. However, these tips should help keep your garden growing beautifully.