Pruning plants for the best results

By Dawn Pettinelli - UConn Home & Garden Education Center
Home & Garden - posted Wed., Apr. 11, 2012
- Contributed Photo

No gardening activity seems to instill as much trepidation in a novice gardener as pruning. While an improperly administrated pruning job can make your plants appear rather odd-looking, unless you did something really drastic, any mistakes will eventually get covered by new growth. This is not to say that the job of pruning should be taken lightly. Indeed, a few well-placed cuts can do much to enhance your plant’s appearance and health.

Not all plants require the same degree of pruning. Very young ornamental plants and shade trees usually just need a judicious cut here and there to promote structural soundness. Basically, you are just looking to remove dead, damaged or rubbing wood. Branches growing into another plant or your pathway may also need some trimming or removal.

As you might imagine, different types of shrubs require somewhat different pruning techniques, although the final goal is similar, in most cases. One generally prunes to control a plant’s size, improve its shape, remove unhealthy branches, and to increase light and air penetration into the canopy.

Late winter through early spring is a good time to prune most shrubs. Since there are no leaves on deciduous plants, the branch framework is obvious, making it clearer where to place your cuts. As a general rule of thumb, evergreens, fruit-bearing plants and summer-blooming deciduous shrubs like rose of Sharon are pruned early. Spring-blooming shrubs like lilacs, forsythia and mock oranges are usually pruned after they bloom.

Before beginning, take a step back and observe the plant’s natural growth tendencies. Plants usually look and perform better when allowed to take on their natural forms. Forsythias, for example, want to be flowing fountains; the rose of Sharon tends to resemble an upright, half-opened fan. When purchasing new plants for your yard, you should consider their mature size and shape.

Rejuvenate overgrown shrubs that have multiple stems by cutting out about one-third of the older stems at ground level. For shrubs that just need to be shaped, prune out the dead wood, rubbing branches and weak stems first. Then just head back or remove some to the branch tips to shape. Always use sharp pruning tools, make an angled cut to an outside bud, and remember, mistakes will regrow!

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