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The Mysteries of Pruning Trees and Shrubs

July 31, 2014 by

pruning viburnum buds

Two of the most frequently asked questions in gardening and landscaping are: how do I prune my shrubs and trees and when should I prune them? The answer depends greatly upon the kind of tree of shrub being pruned.

While there are differences, for every kind of plant there are some general guidelines that you can use to aide in pruning trees and shrubs successfully.

When Should You Prune?

The best time to prune your plants depends on what time of the year the plant blooms. Ask yourself: Does the plant bloom in spring or does it bloom in summer?

If it blooms in spring, then it is flowering on old wood and you can prune right after flowering is complete. This allows the plant to generate new growth and buds over the summer in preparation for next year.

If it blooms in the summer, then it is flowering on new wood (like crape myrtles) and you should prune during the dormant season (late winter) or in the early spring before new growth appears.

Flowering times are good general guidelines for most plants, but there are some exceptions. If there is a branch that needs removed because it is causing an issue – then it can be cut out as necessary. Dead limbs and branches can be pruned out anytime to clean up the tree’s appearance. Avoid pruning plants in late fall, since that can trigger new growth which will not have time to harden off before frosts come.

How to Prunepruning yoshino cherry tree

When pruning trees and shrubs, find which direction the dormant buds are pointing. The dormant buds will sprout new branches which will grow in the direction that they are pointing. Prune above the bud in the direction of where you want the new branch to grow.

The shape of the plant can be easily controlled with careful, well placed cuts. It is also beneficial to direct the plant growth toward the outside canopy of the plant.

While pruning, be sure to move several steps away from the tree to observe how the tree is shaped and to observe the big picture effect of your work.

Always try to make angled cuts that slant away from the plant. A flat cut will allow moisture to sit on top of the branch, which can introduce fungal diseases and may cause rotting. This becomes even more important when pruning out large limbs, as there is more exposed wood.

If you have branches that cross and rub against each other – remove one or both as necessary to prevent bark damage and possible pathogens. Never remove more than 1/3 of a tree or shrub at one time; Cutting back too much growth all at once can cause serious issues for the plant.

Suckers can be removed anytime they grow: Suckers are the small branches that sprout from the root crown of the plant. If not removed, they will sap the growth from the rest of the tree.

Dealing with Diseased Plants

Keep a sharp eye out for diseases as you prune your plants. If you suspect that a disease may be present, clean the pruning tools with a 10% solution of bleach and 90% water in between each cut to help prevent the spread of the disease with your tools.

Cut back the diseased limbs several inches into healthy tissue to be sure that all the diseased tissue has been removed, then dispose of the diseased wood.

After you finish pruning for the day, clean your tools before putting them away so that they will be ready to go for next time! It is very easy for plant diseases to spread from one plant to another – so take care when pruning plants that are infected.

Pruning trees and shrubs incorrectly is rarely fatal for a plant and isn’t something the homeowner should fear. Keep these simple pruning guidelines in mind and your plants will grow strong for many years to come!

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