Pruning is a counterintuitive task. It’s hard to wrap our heads around the fact that we can really get more out of our garden’s plants from cutting them back.
In order to promote growth and protect our garden’s overall health, pruning is at our aid. This specific task isn’t a once a year thing for all plants. When discussing remedial pruning, we have to understand how each plant puts on new growth. This understanding of a plant’s life cycle tell us when and how to prune. One tip that is universal, is pruning all dead, diseased, and dying limbs. You really do get addition in this case, by subtraction.
Considering the calendar year, shrubs that bloom before June should be pruned after flowering. These plants set up their new buds before dormancy. Reframe from cutting anything back late fall – early winter to prevent new growth from being burnt by the cold. With anything that flowers after that should be pruned in the spring, these plants set up their buds late summer – early fall.
Of course, there are exceptions to all rules. Trees with heavy sap, you would wait to prune early summer when the leaves draw up much of its sap. If you were to cut this tree back during the winter, when the sap is held in its truck and branches, it would bleed out of the cut wound, potentially resulting in stem die back.
You may want a more columnar crape myrtle or your hydrangea bush to be more full, this all depends on how you make your cuts. Do consider, If a plant is meant to be a certain height in their adult life it will continue to fight for this size. We can certainly help our plants reach their full adult size faster while giving it a more desirable shape. When making cuts you are releasing all the stored potential energy for new growth. This potential energy is best utilized when you are making cuts from the top of the stem down to the nearest branch intersection or emerging bud.
With your freshly cleaned and sharpened hand pruners, assess your tree or shrub. Ask if there are any dead, damaged, dying or diseased limbs and start removing from there -- cleaning your pruners as needed. Clean cuts at 45 degree angles with stems highest point facing out will lower the risk for stem wounds. Your plant’s health is most important and should be your ultimate desire when pruning.
You want to remove about a third of any adult tree or shrub along with any twiggy suckers along the trunk. Clean up overcrowding, intersecting branches at the canopy to allow more light to reach your plant. Over pruning can stunt your plant’s growth while under pruning can be a waste of efforts. If you have pruned a little much off your plant, to an extent plants are forgivable, you can expect later growth or no growth until the next growing season.
This manner of pruner will take more time than using electric loppers but you’re helping to protect the integrity of the plant. Electric loppers can make harsh cuts leaving irreversible scarring and make it harder to get the desired shape.
Continuing these methods the following years will only ensure your desired garden goals. For more information on pruning, reach out to our shop or your local Purdue extension office.