Pruning is the removal of part of the plant for the benefit of controlling plant sizes and shapes, flowers and fruits produced. A plant’s lifetime is also extended by corrective pruning to improve its overall health. Keeping the plant’s roots and top in balance is key. Cutting back any dead, damaged or diseased branches as soon as they are observed is vital. Shaping the plant for directing growth, increased flower or fruit production or just to fit a garden theme, be it formal or informal, are all accomplished by timely pruning.

Hedges, pruned either formally or informally, define your space. Shrubs grouped or placed singularly flowing from tallest in the back to shortest in the front lead your eye to the different colors, textures and shapes within the space. Shaping the shrubs and flowers help give depth to otherwise flat garden area such as a paths, patios or along property border. Vines like Espaliers and topiary growing on lattice or walls in patterns,   will require a measure of pruning to remove the dead allowing the plant to spread and thrive.

When does pruning happen? Regardless of the time of the year, pruning should happen immediately after any injury or disease is noticed. All other pruning is dependent of what type of plant and to identify when the plant flowers and when are buds produced. For example will it be in the current year? The prior year? Two or more years ago?  If the plant’s blooms are produced in the current year, such as in roses, prune in the spring for new growth. If buds are produced in the prior season, such as for lilacs and forsythia, prune shortly after flowering. For buds produced two or more years ago, non-selective pruning is recommended to maintain shape and strengthen branches, such as with apples. Some plants, such as dogwoods and maples, will have sap rising in the spring so it is best to wait to prune until early summer. With the shears sharp and ready, always prune just above a bud pointing outward and away from the plant’s stem or trunk.

When pruning to restrain the size of a tree or shrub, summer is the best time to trim because the top of the plant has done a majority of the growing for the year. Winter pruning is less risky, especially if done in early winter. It can prevent disease from being introduced into the open cut and can aid in directing the plants energy to the root base. For plants that have been neglected winter pruning is highly recommended. In cases involving large trees, spread major pruning over two or three years giving the tree time to recover after each adjustment.

Not all pruning is done with shears. Pinching is also a means of pruning. It is a thumb and index finger method to increase a plant’s density thus bushiness. Regular garden walk-throughs and pinching to remove dead blossoms propagates growth for new flowering.

Benefits of good pruning include maintaining plant height, architectural lines, plant health and rejuvenation along with esthetic. For trees, directed growth provides the microclimate of the garden below – sun or shade – air movement, temperature and even soil condition. Air circulation within the plant, amount of sunlight on its inner leaves and disease prevention all improve plant health and accomplished through pruning. Pruning can also help control fruit size and quantity. Pruning leads to branch off-shoots, and more branches equate to more blooms and an increase in fruits. Less branches equate to less blooms and larger fruits.

One last important thing to keep in mind when heading out to prune- be sure to maintain a balance between the plant’s roots and top. Happy pruning!