is the practice of removing plant parts to improve the health, landscape effect or value
of the plant. Once the you have determined your objectives and understand
a few basic principles, pruning is primarily a matter of common sense.
Of course, plants in nature never get
pruned. So, it is the natural scheme of things for trees to do most
of the work on their own. This points to the importance of selecting
the right tree for your location in the first place. Always know the
ultimate size, spread and form before you buy. Be sure that it fits
your site conditions for years into the future. Consider dwarf
varieties for limited spaces. Proper plant selection is the one step
that will eliminate the need for most pruning in the home landscape.
Why Prune Landscape Plants?
1. To maintain the natural shape of the plant.
2. To maintain or limit the size of a plant.
3. To remove undesirable growth that would detract from
4. To remove broken, unsightly, disease or damaged growth.
5. To develop a particular form such as an
6. To produce compact growth and prevent legginess.
7. To promote
rejuvenated growth, particularly in older shrubs.
8. To improve future flowering and/or fruiting.
9. To improve the chances of survival at transplanting
10. To maintain the maximum coloration of twig or stem color.
11. To improve light to penetrate to the
interior of the plant.
12. To eliminate weak
crotches or poor branch structures.
13. To remove suckers and/or water sprouts.
improve the safety to humans or property.
General Rules for Pruning
1. Remove dead, broken, severely damaged, diseased and
2. Remove branches that are
detrimental to the shape of the plant. Remove branches growing
toward the middle of the plant or that cross each other, resulting
in damage to one or both branches.
3. Begin pruning when plants are
young. Prevent problems and maintain their natural
4. Use the proper
tools and keep them sharp.
When to Prune Landscape Plants
Each tree or shrub type or species has an ideal time for pruning.
However, pruning outside of this ideal time will generally not cause
serious damage to the plant. Improper timing could lead to loss of
vigor or flowering and, if continued many times, might lead to a
decline of the plant.
For details on the
timing of pruning...
Pruning can be done anytime during the
year, but recommended times vary with different plants. Pruning at the
wrong time of the year will not kill a plant, but continual improper
pruning can result in damage or decline. Pruning should not be done at
the convenience of the pruner, but rather when it results in optimum
plant growth. Keep this rule in mind and there is little chance of
damaging the plant.
In general, the best time to prune
most plants is during late winter or early spring before growth begins.
(Exceptions to this rule will be noted in the discussion of specific
plants.) The least desirable time is immediately after the new growth
has developed in the spring. A great amount of stored food within plant
roots and stems has been used to develop new growth, and this food
should be replaced by the new foliage before it is removed. Otherwise
considerable dwarfing of the plant may occur.
It is also advisable to limit the
amount of pruning done late in the summer because this practice
stimulates new growth on some plants. This growth may not have
sufficient time to harden off before cold weather arrives and so may be
damaged or killed by low temperatures. Late pruning also removes
valuable food reserves.
Plants damaged by storms or vandalism
should be pruned as soon as possible, regardless of the season.
Pruning is best done when twigs,
branches and limbs are dry and when no wet weather is in the forecast
for a week. This is most important in fall and spring when diseases are
active and easily transmitted to vulnerable plants. Whenever possible,
avoid pruning the tender spring flush of growth to avoid tearing new
bark tissue and opening wound sites for disease organisms to enter.
Most ornamental landscape plants will
remain healthier if you do some pruning every other year to thin out and
open up the plant's interior canopy to improve light penetration and air
Sometimes it is necessary to prune
ornamental landscape plants to remove twigs or branches infected by such
blight, or one of several twig blights or dieback diseases. The
infected part should be removed 12 inches or more beyond any external or
internal evidence of infection and back to a living lateral branch. To
keep from transmitting diseases from a diseased to a healthy plant,
disinfect tools between cuts and always between plants by dipping or
spraying the blade surfaces with alcohol or liquid chlorine bleach
diluted 1 part bleach to 9 parts water.
How to Prune Landscape Plants
Sharpen pruning equipment so all cuts
are smooth to encourage rapid healing. Do not leave stubs--they usually
die back, and once dieback starts, the diseases may easily spread to
perfectly healthy tissue. This can be very serious, especially if large
branches or the main trunk of the plant is involved. Dieback may also
occur if branches are broken off rather than cut.
No two plants are exactly the same, so
each one may have to be pruned a little differently to keep its natural
shape. Some specific rules are given in the discussion of how to prune
In most instances, it's advisable to
cut back each stem to a bud or side branch. It's usually desirable to
select buds that are pointing toward the outside of the plant rather
than buds pointing to the inside. Shoots growing from buds pointing
inward will grow through the interior of the plant or criss-cross one
another. This often results in damage to the stems or unsightly growth
or shape. To open up a woody ornamental plant, prune out some of the
center growth and cut back the terminals to buds that point outward.
When a branch is cut off, new growth
will usually occur at the buds nearest to the cut. When a branch tip is
removed, the nearest side buds grow much more than they normally would
and the bud nearest the pruning cut will become the new branch tip. If
you want more side branches to develop, remove the tip. The strength and
vigor of new shoots are often directly proportional to the amount that
the stem is pruned back.
For example, if a deciduous shrub is
pruned to 1 foot from the ground, the new growth will have little
competition for light, moisture and nutrients. Consequently , it will be
vigorous with few, if any, flowers the first year. However, if only the
tips of the old growth are removed, most of the previous branches will
still be there and new growth will be shorter and weaker. Flowers will
be more plentiful, although smaller. Thus, if you want a large number of
small flowers and fruits, prune lightly. If you want fewer, but
high-quality blooms or fruits in succeeding years, prune extensively.
When two or more stems of equal size
and vigor are competing for dominance, you can control the height of the
tree or shrub by the amount you cut them. If you leave one appreciably
taller than the other, it will eventually become dominant.
With a few minor exceptions, wound
"sealing" compounds are not recommended after pruning. The best
thing for most wounds is to allow them to dry out as soon as
possible. In the past, thick, tar-like compounds were used to cover
larger wounds. Research has shown that these actually do more harm
than good by trapping moisture and spores of rot fungi against the
A thin, dark colored "paint" type of
pruning compound may be used primarily for its camouflage effect so
that the wounds are not so noticeable.
The two exceptions when a wood
compound should be used are for pruning peach trees to avoid the
peach tree borer and red oaks pruned during the growing season to
avoid attracting the bark beetle that carries the deadly oak wilt
fungus from tree to tree. It is recommended that red oaks be prune
only in the dormant season when the
beetles are not active.
Then, you would not have to use the pruning compound at all.