Friday, July 21, 2017  

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Pruning - Shaping Up Your Shrubs and Trees
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Wintertime is a great time to get out in your yard and evaluate the need for pruning. The reasons for pruning are many. Plant need to be trained to stay within their borders. The quality of the fruit and flowers improves with pruning and no one needs to be scratched or injured by attempting to navigate a path overgrown with plant material. Appropriate placement of plant material considering the mature sizenof vast importance. If pruning multiple time a season is hte only way to control the boundaries of a plant then it is in the wrong place and needs to be moved.


Young trees, when first planted should be pruned to remove broken, crossing and pest ridden branches. Then it needs to rest and focus on growing and adjusting to its new surroundings. So no pruning is recommended for the first year.

Careful pruning is done on trees to the branch collar. This ring-shaped area is located as the branch meets the trunk. Do not damage the collar but cut the unwanted branch on a downward angle just on the side of the twig or branch to be removed. This leaves the main branch without any injury or opening for disease. Pruning cuts need to be made on an angle to prevent rain from settling and causing rotting. Always try to make your pruning cuts back into the mass of the plant so they are not noticeable.

Knowing the growth structure of the tree is essential. Study its form and function.

As a tree grows, its lower branches do not move up as a child’s knees do. Pruning the lower branches and shaping the tree is easier when it is in its early years of growth. The central leader of a tree needs to remain and not be pruned.
If the leader is damaged or removed by a storm or accident, a new central leader can be trained. Other branches competing with the central leader may be pruned to eliminate that competition.

Pruning is always dependent upon the function of the tree. Is it a screen or do you want to see through it to another space? Do you wish to espalier or shape it ornamentally on a wall or trellis? Special effects can be accomplished for bonsai, topiary and espalier and require special pruning techniques.

Bonsai creates a miniature tree to give the allusion of age. Topiary is pruning to tiered globe shapes. Espalier is training a tree to grow on a flat surface in a particular design as against a fence, wall or trellis.

Pruning is primarily for plant health. Dead or dying wood needs to be removed. The cut needs to be done into the healthy wood and beyond the diseased area. Pruning shears should be cleaned regularly especially following the removal of diseased wood. This can be accomplished with rubbing alcohol, “Lysol” or “Listerine” on the blades of the pruner. Keep a container near your tool storage area to promote that practice. Diseased wood should not be composted or left at the curb for pick-up but put in the trash.


The tools used for pruning are as important as the end result. They need to be cleaned, oiled, sharpened and cared for in order to be dependent. Sheers come in many forms. Scissor style, anvil and lopping shears can handle the smaller branches. Pole saw-pruners, bow saws, pruning saws and chain saws are needed for the larger branches.

Arborists and the forester in your county are available for free consultations and should be asked when the pruning involves safety issues or trees of substantial size.

Pruning should be done during the dormant time of growth. Pruning promotes growth and if done during the active growing season could rapidly undo the pruning desired effect.

For evergreen trees the need to prune can wait until the spring and new growth. The “candles” of new growth may be pinched back to half their size. This promotes the denseness of the tree. This should be done with fingers and not a pruning tool to prevent browning of the tips.


When pruning shrubs, their natural shape needs to be ascertained. Is it a weeping or spreading or a dense ball-like shape?

When pruning any shrub or tree stand back and visualize before and during the process...Often! There is something that happens when you are pruning away and lose yourself in the interior of the plant. Then when you stand back it is all one sided and loppy looking. Like a bad hair cut there is no going back!

Shrubs can be pruned to maintain their shape, reduce their size or be rejuvenated. Older shrubs can be carefully rejuvenated with the removal of no more than 1/3 of the plant material a year. Usually the older more woody branches may be pruned close to the ground which promotes new growth. Following a three-year process the shrub should display a new vigor.

Crape Myrtles so often gracing our summer gardens are so often improperly pruned. The term “Crape Murder” refers to the lopping off of the tops of these graceful shrubs. This promotes a bush-like response and hides the natural graceful growth habit. Crape myrtles are properly pruned when the weak and interfering wood is removed along with the suckers at the base of the plant. Dead, small and crossing branches can be cleaned out to approximately two thirds of the height of the shrub. This proper pruning exposes the stately bark and graceful branches and encourages vigorous prolific flowering and growth.

Specialized pruning of hedges, always wider at the bottom for the sunlight to reach the lower limbs and the knowledge of shapes with straight lines creating more pruning needs are all important when considering the style you desire.

Pruning flowering vines are according to flower production similarly to shrubs. It needs to be determined if they bloom on second year wood or new wood. Pruning needs to be accomplished following the flowering for those blooming on second year wood and before new growth for those flowering on new wood.

Shrubs like bayberry seem to love abuse. They respond with vigorous growth when whacked back every few years regardless of the technique. Cut back your bayberry, salt bush and other native shrubs that are shading waterfront grasses to promote the grasses’ growth.

For pruning information on roses and fruit trees and other fruits it is suggested that you consult the internet or a nursery professional for specialized instructions.

The good news is that the chiggers and ticks are not in the woods and we can prune to our hearts delight until spring.

Now watch your fingers!!