Pruning For Plant Health and Beauty

Pruning the plant material in your landscape can be done for a number of reasons. Some plants are pruned to maintain a particular shape or size. Others are pruned to promote new growth or flowering. Often it is necessary to prune plants that overgrow their sites, crowd other plant material or obstruct views from porches, decks or windows. Plant material that has been damaged by insects, disease or weather may require corrective pruning. Pruning is one of the least understood practices in landscape maintenance. Improper pruning, or pruning at the wrong time of the year can result in lack of growth, reduced flowering or plants that are more susceptible to damage by insects, disease or cold weather. Listed below is some general information associated with pruning. More in depth information can be found through the links on our Resources page. - Always prune with clean, sharp tools. Clean tools will help in reducing the spread of disease organisms. While sharp tools make cutting easier and is less stressful on the plant. Pruning cuts should be at an angle, just above a bud or a lateral branch. Too much of an angle or cutting too near or far from the bud or branch can result in problems for the plant (figure 1). - Cuts should always be made back to a bud (a), a lateral branch (b) or the main truck (c), and avoid leaving a stub (figure 2). - To remove heavy branches without damaging the tree, a three cut sequence is recommended. Make the first cut from the bottom of the branch, half way through. Make the second cut from the top of the branch, just beyond the first cut, to whole way through to remove the branch. Make the third cut to remove the remaining portion by cutting the branch collar (the swollen area where the branch joins the trunk) to avoid leaving a stub (figure 3). - Pruning done on plant material for the purpose of size control is best done in the late winter to early spring, before the flush of new growth occurs. Pruning done to promote new growth or flowering is best done after the landscape feature of your plant has occurred. For flowering plants, prune after the flowering has occurred. For plants with colorful berries, prune after the berries are gone. For plants that produce flowers on year old growth, such as Hydrangea or Crape Myrtle, cut away only those branches with spent flowers in late winter. Pruning perennial flowers should be done as the plants defoliate (leaves and stems are browning and dying back). The entire plant should be cut back to within an inch or two of ground level.