Pruning: The Proper Techniques
No, we are not talking about getting those hedge shears out! We are talking about selectively pruning to allow for the best natural form and best health of your trees and shrubs.
Proper pruning starts out with a well thought out plan. If the right plant is selected for the right place based on mature size (height, width, and form), pruning becomes a lot less of a daunting task. Pruning or shearing is not the way to correct a poorly placed tree or shrub. Removal or transplanting to a better location for the plants needs are a better option if it has become larger than the space allows.
The other part of the plan is to keep a maintenance schedule in mind from the time you plant. You don’t want to leave your landscape go completely unkempt for years and then decide that you want to prune it. By that time, your plants may have become overgrown and weak. They will require a lot more attention and care to return them to a healthier and stronger state, if that is even a possibility.
Why not use hedge shears?
Shearing does have its place. That place is generally in a very formal garden with hedges and a full-time gardener.
Yes, it seems quicker to whip out those shears and start clipping away but you are just causing more work for yourself. Many fast growing plants throw out new shoots quickly to compensate for the loss. What this means is that you end up shearing and cleaning up multiple times throughout the season rather than once or twice with minimal debris. Shearing also promotes thick exterior growth on the plant. Less light reaches inside the canopy and the plant eventually begins to look sparse and hollow (unattractive). Most importantly, the use of hedge shears destroys the natural form and beauty of the plants in the properly designed landscape.
What should I use then?
The main tools to use are an old fashioned pair of bypass hand pruners, and a pruning saw. You may need to use other tools for larger or higher branches including bypass loppers or a bypass pole pruner. Be careful when working overhead or on a ladder. Think about how the branch may fall before you cut and then position yourself accordingly. We recommend contacting a professional for pruning of branches that need a chainsaw or require tree climbing!
What are some of the basic techniques?
Pruning should be strategic for the best health of the plant. You want to make cuts back at the main trunk, a lateral branch, or a lateral bud (Figure 1). These locations are the most ideal for proper healing since hormones are released more readily in these areas that provide rapid healing of the wound(s). Rapid healing prevents insect infestation and disease. Making these cuts as close to the trunk, lateral branch, or lateral bud is very important to the healing process of the plant and the aesthetics of the plant. In other words, don’t leave those stubs!
Another important technique especially when pruning trees in which the bark may tear down is the 3 cut method (Figure 2). You should first cut with a pruning saw from the bottom of the branch about ¼ or ½ way through then move up 3-4” and do the same to the top of the branch. The final cut is to remove the stub you have left.
Various methods of pruning exist depending on what end result is desired. These methods include rejuvenation, renewal, heading, and thinning. We recommend taking a look at Penn State’s Publication: Pruning Ornamental Plants for more detailed information on each of these methods.
That is an important question. The answer varies depending on the plant. Keep in mind that if the plant is known for its showy flower or fruit, you will want to plan accordingly to ensure that you don’t cut off the buds that will eventually turn into the flower and fruit. Generally, shrubs and trees should be pruned during the dormant season (fall after the leaves drop or winter). This particularly applies to the deciduous shrubs and trees since it is much easier to see the form and structure when the leaves are gone. Evergreen shrubs and trees rarely need pruning unless they grow an odd branch that throws off the balance of the tree or if it interferes with movement around the tree. Some landscape styles however may need more pruning or shearing of shrubs (as in hedges or topiary). Ideally, a light pruning on evergreens here and there is all you need. For a detailed list of when the ideal time to prune for different trees and shrubs in PA we recommend checking out Penn State’s Publication: Pruning Ornamental Plants.
When removing diseased branches we recommend cleaning or sterilizing with 70% rubbing alcohol or 10% bleach solution before proceeding. You do not want to spread disease to other plants or other parts of the plant your pruning. Alternating tools is another way to combat the spread of disease.
Plan your landscape. Maintain it regularly. Use the proper tools for the healthiest and best looking plant. Follow the basic and advanced techniques. Know your plants for the best pruning times. Be careful not to spread disease or take on something that should be left to the professionals. And lastly, if you would rather not do the pruning yourself, contact us. We would be glad to help!