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Pruning Times: What and When to Prune

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Pruning a tree

Proper pruning is a good way to help your trees and shrubs stay healthy and strong. This guide is about pruning times: what and when to prune.

Solutions: Pruning Times: What and When to Prune

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Tip: Trim Or Remove Trees Before They Cause Damage

We have had a huge 125 foot oak tree right next to our house for over 25 years. We've been told it was close to 200 years old. I have treasured this tree, and threatened to chain myself to it to keep hubby from cutting it down. I finally agreed to let him get it trimmed. The cheapest estimate we got was almost 3000 dollars. Wow, a lot of money so we were hesitant.

On June 7th, I had just finished making breakfast, and decided to lay down and catch a nap. Within fifteen minutes, I thought the world was coming to an end. My beloved tree uprooted and crashed through the kitchen and our sun room.

Luckily we have super insurance through Nationwide, and I can't say enough good things about them. The damage so far has cost close to 200,000 dollars. We are not expected to get back into our home until October. So this is not really finding a way to save money, but finding the money so no one gets hurt or killed.

By Peggy from Cortland, Ohio

Tip: Gardening Pruning Primer: What and When to Prune

Pruning SheersKnowing what and when to prune is essential to maintaining a healthy and aesthetically pleasing garden. Here are some general guidelines on what to prune and when to prune it.

When to Prune

Fruit Trees: Fruit trees should always be pruned before buds start to swell, so usually in late winter or early spring. To maintain shape and encourage air circulation within the canopy, remove any branches growing inward or those growing vertically.

Evergreen Trees: Evergreen trees seldom need pruning. If you prune, wait until after the tree has completed substantial new growth, or you may end up having to prune it again-usually late spring or early summer.

Deciduous Trees: Deciduous trees also seldom need pruning. If pruning is needed to maintain shape, it should be done in mid to late winter while the tree is dormant.

Berry Bushes: Berry bushes are usually best pruned in late fall or early winter. Regular pruning to maintain shape can be done throughout the season, but is best done immediately after harvesting to minimize production loss.

Evergreen Shrubs: Evergreen shrubs don't flower, but some produce cones. Typically, it's best to prune evergreen shrubs between late winter and early spring-after they produce cones.

Deciduous Shrubs: Let the flowers guide you. It's best to prune shrubs back immediately after they flower (usually late spring or summer).

Rosebushes: Older shoots and those turned inward should be pruned by late winter-early spring at the latest. Cut remaining 4 to 8 canes to a length of 12 to 24 inches. Ideally, cuts should be made within an inch above a bud or strong shoot.

Distinguishing Between Plant Types

Fruit Bearing: for pruning purposes, defined as any tree or shrub that bears fruit.

Deciduous: any perennial plant, tree, or shrub that loses all of its foliage for part of the year.

Evergreen: any tree, shrub, or plant that bears foliage throughout the year.

Types of Pruning

Maintenance Pruning: Regular maintenance pruning is usually done annually in order to maintain the general shape and hygiene of plant.

Formative Pruning: Formative pruning is a technique usually reserved for young plants, plants that have outgrown their space, or for plants remaining after another plant in close proximity has been removed (to prevent growth from looking lopsided). Essentially, it's pruning to train or correct shape.

Pruning for Rejuvenation: Occasionally, it's necessary to prune old shrubs to renew their vigor. Some shrubs responds well to hard pruning, while others are better rejuvenated over a period of 2 to 3 years. If your shrub has not been pruned regularly, go slowly and space pruning over several seasons. Select no more than 1/4 to 1/3 of the oldest wood in a single season. After pruning, feed plants and keep soil moist and well mulched. Generally, plants that grow more than 12 inches in a season usually respond well to hard pruning. Plants that grow more slowly (less than 12 inches per year) should be pruned more gently and only when necessary.

Pruning for Pests and Disease: Just like it sounds, this type of pruning is done in response to the outbreak of disease or pests.

Shrubs That Respond Well to Hard Pruning

  • Butterfly Bush (Buddleia)
  • Blue Spirea (Caryopteris)
  • Common Smoketree (Continus coggygria)
  • Deutzia
  • Eucalyptus
  • Forsythia
  • Fuchsias
  • Hydrangeas (some)
  • Mock-orange (Phiadelphus)
  • Red Stem Dogwood (Cornus stolonifera)
  • Roses (some)
  • Rubus (some)
  • St. Johnís Worts (Hypericums)
  • Tatarian Dogwood (Cornus alba)
  • Willows (some)

Shrubs Better to Prune Lightly*

  • Aucuba japonica and cultivars
  • Barbarry (Berberis)
  • Boxwood (Buxus sempervirens)
  • Cotoneasters
  • Daphnes
  • Magnolias
  • Potentilla fructose cultivars
  • Prunus (plums, cherries, peaches, apricots, and almonds)
  • Rhodoendrons
  • Viburnums
  • Yew (Taxus baccata)
*These can be pruned hard, but often take years to recover.

Pruning Tips

  • Think before you prune. Each cut should enhance the overall shape of the tree or bush. This means cutting just above an outward-pointing bud so that new shoots do not emerge pointed inward where they will slow down air circulation and receive less light. Shrubs with buds opposite each other (rather than staggered) should be pruned level as close to the buds as possible.
  • Always use top-quality pruning shears with sharp blades and sturdy handles. Dull blades will crush or tear branches. Look for shears with parts that are easy to remove and sharpen. Hand shears should feature a safety mechanism that keeps blades safely closed when not in use.
  • Be prepared for some losses. If new growth fails to emerge on a plant a month or two after pruning (except when pruned in the winter), it may have a weak root system and or disease problems, and may never come back. Consider shopping for a replacement.
  • When pruning trees, leave the branch collar intact when removing limbs. The branch collar is the swollen area at the base of the branch, the point where one branch arises from another (or the trunk). This area is like a security door. It stores important protective chemicals that keep diseases from invading the parent limb. Leaving this intact when removing limbs will help promote faster healing.
  • When concerned about the hardiness of a plant, it's best to wait until the end of winter to prune it. Intact branches will trap air over winter, creating a microclimate to help protect the plant.

By Ellen Brown

Article: Late Winter Pruning

Late Winter PruningProper pruning is a good way to help your plants and shrubs stay healthy while preparing them for budding. It's best to prune shrubs that bloom in the summer and fall in the late winter or early spring prior to bud development. Spring or winter bloomers should be cut immediately after flowering has terminated. This means you're never pruning in the summer.

When done correctly pruning aids in controlling plant growth, enabling flower and fruit generation, and maintaining the health of all plant life in the surrounding area. You want to be sure to carry on this task by utilizing the correct tools. Dull cutters will bruise your plants and shrubs and may cause health problems. Remember, when you prune a plant, although it does not bleed like us, it does have an open wound. The cleaner and quicker the cut the faster it will heal and the less likely any disease will have time to take root.

The tools you will most likely need are hand pruning shears, a lopper, and a pruning saw. A good, sharp pair of hand pruning shears are effective for any close cutting that needs to be done. When cutting the plant you should not have to struggle, cuts should be immediate and crisp. For branches up to one-half inch use lopping shears and when branches exceed that diameter defer to the saw.

There are three basic steps to pruning - cutting away branches that are harmful to your plant's health; cutting in order to thin out the plant; and cutting back to reduce plant size. First all diseased, dead or broken branches should be cut. Always make sure your cuts are clean; the remaining surface should be devoid of any torn or strained tissue. Take care not to damage the bark above or below the cut. Like your skin, the bark is your plant or shrub's primary defense against disease and unwanted visitors.
Proper pruning is a good way to help your plants and shrubs stay healthy while preparing them for budding.

Next look for branches that are impeding new growth such as tangled, crossed over limbs. These should be cut. If the plant is still too thick do not cut away new growth, this will hinder your plant's progress. Get rid of older branches, looking for any that are clearly different from the others. If you have growth that is well beyond the average branch length, cut that back to a bud about a half-foot below the common branch length.

You may want to reduce the size of the shrub or tree. At this point you want to do three things - insure future uniform growth, prepare for successful budding, and maintain plant health. To do this cut back each branch four to six inches, stopping at a new bud. Do not cut more than one branch at a time; each branch should be cut separately to facilitate clean, crisp cuts that won't damage the plant. In doing this you'll also be able to create a natural look and a clear path for seasonal growth.

As you venture out to prepare your shrubs and trees for the coming spring, perhaps it's best to remember the Hippocratic Oath: "Above all else, do no harm." Happy and healthy pruning!

By Ellen Brown

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