Twig Tips by Jodie

Posted on July 27, 2017 by jo

Prudent Pruning!

Prudent Pruning!  Oh, this subject....makes me crazy (crazier).  It's summer and everyone is out there whacking back their shrubbery or calling us to do it for them.  The problem is, SO much pruning is done incorrectly.  Most of it, in fact.  I've touched on pruning before in my blogs, usually tellling you what shrubs to trim back in the spring, after they bloom.  I have been remiss about writing a summer article on pruning.  Well, I did do one years ago when I hardly had any readers but hey, I have a lot more now (YAY!) so it's easier to get the word out.  In this article, I'm going to tell you WHY you should prune, WHEN you should prune, and HOW you should prune.  Seriously, it's not that hard to get it right so read on, and if you don't believe me, believe Rosie and Kyle down at Purdue, their publication is awesome!

WHY should you prune your shrubs?  There are seven reasons and none of them are to turn them into mismatched balls and squares, although one of them IS to shape your plants into unusual forms. That is a real reason, but most of us in this neck of the woods don't really care about having a shrub shaped like a swan in their front yard.  The other six reasons are to  1) maintain and reduce plant size 2) remove errant or undesirable growth 3) remove dead, broken or diseased branches 4) stimulate flowering and fruiting 5) rejuvenate and restore older plants to vigorous new growth and 6) to prevent damage to life and property (most shrubs cannot damage your property or kill you but those trees sure can, might have to call in the big guns for that job - arborist, call an arborist)

WHEN should you prune your shrubs?  It's always a good idea to prune when your plants can make a fast recovery and with flowering trees and shrubs, you need to do it according to the season of bloom.  Most spring flowering shrubs bloom on the old growth, so prune them right after they bloom to give them a chance to set new buds for the following season.  Most summer flowering plants bloom on new growth, so pruning them EARLY in the spring before they even flush their growth is best for their floral display, do it on that warm day in March or April when you just want to soak up some of that early spring sun. Conifers and most broadleaved evergreens (like boxwoods), can be trimmed any time that the wood isn't frozen but the best time is after they have gotten their new growth and before it has hardened off.  Taking off the lower limbs of trees (heading them up) or removing dead branches can be done at any time, whenever you have time and are tired of running into them when you are mowing.  

HOW do you prune?  Now this is a little trickier to explain in a blog but I'm going to give you a brief overview.  There are a few basic pruning techniques....1) heading back  2) thinning 3) renewal 4) rejuvination 5) pinching and 6) deadheading .   The last two deal mostly with perennials and herbaceous plants so I'm not covering those, although deadheading your rhododendrons in the spring after the bloom is important for future blooming.  But heading back is what most people do, and most people do it with SHEARS.  This promotes dense branching on the outer edges of the plants, causing the interior to be shaded out and no new buds will form, which makes it much more difficult to control size over time.  Better to use a thinning method on most plants, using a good set of hand pruners, like nice sharp Felco pruners (watch those fingers!).  You will make less cuts, make less of a mess and it will be much healthier for the plant because it allows light to reach the interior.  Reach down into a plant, find where that branch connects with one further into the interior and cut there.  It will create a small hole in the plant but believe me, the hole will fill in and be much softer and healthier looking.  I usually thin first, making several cuts where the plants are the densest and then lightly head back.  Now renewal pruning is a little more difficult and time consuming, you need to do this when a shrub has gotten way overgrown.  This involves removing approximately 1/3 of the largest, oldest branches each year over a period of several years.  Rejuvination pruning can be done on certain plants (examples butterfly bush, some spireas, some hydrangeas, potentillas, redtwig dogwood) and with these, you can cut the entire plant to the ground in early spring. 

So there's an overview for prudent pruning.  Plants do need to be pruned to encourage flowering, new healthy growth, and control size. Control size...yes, but only to a certain extent.  No amount of pruning will keep a plant small and healthy that wants to be big and healthy. (OK, one kind of pruning does, it's called bonsai, but that's a whole different deal...) Read the label, ask questions and put the right plant in the right place.  Minimal pruning will keep it there and save you a lot of work down the road.  Also, learn to enjoy a plants natural shape, the good Lord did not intend for His green gifts to this world to be pruned into balls and squares.  Seriously. Unless your house looks lke the Palace of Versailles, your plants do not need to be trimmed so formally.  It is a lot of work and just not a good look for most homes here in Indiana. :-)

Off to hug my lightly-pruned, natural hydrangeas.....Jodie







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