In a perfect world, we could simply leave our plants and they would grow as we want them to. However, if you want your plants to stay healthy, maintain their shape, and not grow all over your garden, you will need to periodically prune them.
What is pruning a plant: Pruning is an incredibly important step with almost all perennial plants. Pruning allows you to inspect for dead branches as well as damage from disease or pests. You can thin out the branches, allowing more airflow and sunlight, so that leaves and blossoms are even brighter the next year. Most pruning should happen when your plants are dormant, in late fall, as this won’t interfere with new growth. Pruning in fall or winter will also allow better sight access so you can see what is happening with your plants. Form a plan, do your research and make strategic cuts as you prune.
What is pruning and why is it important?
Increases air flow
Plants need sunlight to grow and if your plant has too many branches growing too closely together, it will not be healthy. Regular pruning allows more air and sunlight to flow through your plants, meaning they will live longer.
Removes dead branches
A major hazard with large plants, especially fruit trees, is that there can be dead branches. Not only do these dead branches take important nutrients away from the rest of the tree, but they can cause major safety issues.
When pruning, you should always look for dead branches and remove them, especially before it snows as this can add too much weight to them so that they fall down.
Prevents woody growth
Some plants, such as lavender, have a woody bottom layer to them and a green top. The green part is where leaves and flowers can grow whereas the woody area is all about stability.
If you don’t prune these plants, the woody part will continue to grow, which means less greenery and flowers. Going back to lavender, this plant can quickly become an eyesore if you don’t prune it and the woody part is able to grow unencumbered.
What is the difference between cutting and pruning?
If you’ve ever taken a pair of gardening shears to tidy up your plant, what you are doing is actually cutting and not pruning. Pruning is a careful, methodical practice whereas cutting is mainly about trimming branches so that they aren’t too long.
While many people use the two terms interchangeably, they are in fact different, and if you want to be a master gardener, then it’s important to understand the differences.
How do you prune a plant?
Step 1 – Inspect your plant
Before you do any cutting, take some time to familiarize yourself with your plant. Start with some research to determine just when is the right time for pruning.
Some plants will even vary by variety. For example, blue hydrangeas should be pruned in the fall while purple varieties should be pruned in the spring.
Take a walk around your plants and make a plan. You will also need to assemble your tools. Plants are probably fine with shears but large trees will need special saws and ladders, as well as plenty of safety gear.
When in doubt, call an expert. Talk to other local gardeners and if you’re not sure what you’re doing, it may be better to simply call a pruning service to guarantee your plants are getting the proper care.
Step 2 – Remove unwanted areas
Now that you have a plan, it’s time to get started. For trees, start by removing any dead branches as these can cause major safety issues if they fall.
For trees, you never want to top your branches, which means simply cutting off the top part of the tree. The result will be an unhealthy tree that won’t grow properly.
For plants, you may need to move some branches around to see the inner workings. Look for branches that are twisted around others or that are blocking too much air and sunlight.
Step 3 – Make a shape
Once you remove dead branches, you can start focusing on the shape of your plant. You don’t want to cut too much off or else the whole plant can die. However, depending on the size of your plant, you may be able to take several inches off the branches.
Prune parts of the plant that are interfering with neighboring plants. You will also want to clear areas that overhang your roof or that drop unwanted berries on a path.
Step 4 – Remove suckers
Suckers on a plant are new growth at the bottom. These won’t produce fruit or flowers and instead will suck valuable nutrients away from the rest of the plant.
When to prune?
Technically, you can prune plants throughout the year but you may not get the results you are looking for. This is especially true if you have flowering plants.
Generally, the best time to prune plants is in the later fall. This is when many plants will lose their leaves and thus it is easier to inspect the plant.
You will be able to see if there are any broken branches or any branches that are crossing others and thus impeding growth.
As for flowering plants, they will be entering a dormant phase so you don’t have to worry about interfering with the blooming stages. Fall pruning will also give your plants time to get over any shock so that come spring they can start growing to their full potential.
What plants can you prune?
Just about any perennial plant should be pruned. These are plants that come back year after year and if not checked on, will simply keep growing as they want.
When you place any plant in your garden, do a bit of research first to see what their pruning schedule is like so that you can always be prepared.
Any plant, shrub, or tree that continues to grow each year will benefit from pruning. If done right, pruning will keep your plant healthy and will encourage new growth.