This time of year has us checking off many projects that get our lives in order, both inside the house and out in the garden. Pruning is a part of our garden maintenance each year and can be a frustrating process to some. Let’s elevate the experience to a more enjoyable level by following these steps:
1. Invest in top-quality equipment that execute clean, precise pruning cuts. To maintain a plant’s natural habit, refrain from using electric or gas-powered pruning tools. Wear safety goggles. Purchase comfortable, close-fitting gloves tough enough to provide suitable protection.
2. Start slowly. Patience will help produce favorable results. If unsure of a plant’s growth in a season, prune out a maximum of 1/3 or less from the plant. If you know a plant will grow vigorously in one season, then you can prune it more severely.
3. Tarzan and Jane we are not! Stay on the ground to prune; save the riskier, higher work for the tree company experts. There is plenty of work to do on the shrub and small tree level with less of a struggle and quicker, gratifying results.
4. Work with your plant. Pruning and respecting a plant’s natural growth habit requires patience. The results add aesthetic highlights to your garden. Premeditated pruning cuts (one cut at a time) with a trained eye can guide the growth of a plant in a more natural, pleasing manner; it also reduces pruning in subsequent years. On the other hand, haphazard pruning cuts stimulate undesirable, atypical growth that in turn increases your need to prune. Avoid whack and hack in your pruning vocabulary; try using prune, trim, lighten and shape instead!
5. Prune the easy plant material first i.e. dead, diseased and damaged branches. Prune these branches back to where they join their host branch. This step will greatly improve the appearance of your plant. Also remove any vines and competing plant material within the outer circumference of your shrubs and young trees; this increases air circulation and allows water and nutrients to reach the plant more easily
6. Train your eye. It is important to see what should be removed from a plant and equally important to see what should remain. For instance, if you want to reduce a deciduous shrub in height, establish with your eyes the level of branches that will become the new top of the plant. Take hold of each branch that grows beyond this new height level and follow it back inside the plant to where it joins the next branch; make your pruning cut at that juncture. Work your way around the plant, pruning out the branches exceeding the new height.
7. Step back and observe your work from time to time. Keep the symmetry and form of the overall plant in mind as you work. A difficult pruning decision at close range is often decided more easily from a distance. Don’t prune too long in one section of your plant; prune uniformly, encircling the plant multiple time as you remove branches.
8. Pruning in moderation is not fatal to your plants. If the temperature is agreeable to you and there is work to be done, then head outside and enjoy your pruning experience.
Editor’s Note: Fran West has been a pruning specialist since 1991. She enjoys giving workshops highlighting her easy approach to pruning shrubs and small trees.
by Fran West, author of “The Formula for Pruning Mastery”