Pruning your trees, shrubs, and bushes is absolutely imperative for the long-term health and success of the plant. Pruning not only helps “shape” a shrub, perennial or tree into an attractive form, it also assists the plant in producing flowers, fruit and new growth. Pruning also maximizes your return on watering and fertilizer.
At Mirage Landscaping in Calgary, we have seen some unfortunate pruning happenstances in our three generations in the landscape maintenance business. Worse yet, we often see plants that have never been pruned at all. Don’t let inexperience keep you from caring for your plants properly. Provided here are some general tips on pruning that all plants can benefit from.
Your plants are living things, but being regenerative in nature, they grow differently than we do. Amateur gardeners in Calgary have to work pretty hard just to make sure their few precious perennials and flowering shrubs and trees come back every year, and are happily surprised when the weather allows for an early bloom. Therefore, the idea of wantonly chopping off branches here and there seems completely counterintuitive.
Try thinking of pruning as a form of weeding, only the “weeding out” being done is that of the underproductive parts of the plant that work against its reaching its full potential. You want your shrub, tree, or perennial to generate whatever type of “crop” it is meant to. Here in Calgary, it’s usually a flower of some sort. In order to maximize the potential of a plant, landscape maintenance professionals approach pruning as a three-step process.
1) Carefully trim to open the plant up to maximum sunlight.
2) Show preference for new growth over older growth that is winding down or has stopped.
3) Moderate growth so that each area receives the proper amount of support from the plant’s root system.
When to Prune?
The question as to when to best prune can be a complicated one. It depends on whether the plant in question is a shrub or tree, and whether it blooms in the spring or summer.
Generally, spring blooming shrubs that flower on old growth should be cleaned up after the first bloom (such as lilacs). By contrast, several late-spring and summer-blooming shrubs bloom only on new growth (like roses), and should be pruned in early spring or late fall when dormant for best results. For hedges, time their pruning as they are just coming out of dormancy. The new growth they produce will then have time to fully harden by winter.
Trees are completely different. You can definitely trim away dead wood whenever you find it, but major pruning should be left until late fall or winter. Pruning during the dormant period minimizes sap loss and stress to the tree. And at these times of year insects and fungus are also dormant, and will not be able to enter any wounds your tree might incur through pruning. You can also easily see your tree’s inside shape, making it like likely you’ll accidently remove a major limb.
How to Prune
The three most common pruning tools are the hand-held pruning shear, the extended arm pruning tool called a “lopper,” and the pruning saw, whether handheld or mounted to a pole.
No matter what you are pruning, there are a few basics to keep in mind. First, like a doctor, is the principle of, “do no harm.” The last thing you want is for your pruning to be worse for the plant than doing nothing. Many inexperienced pruners actually wound the plant, primarily by tearing bark or otherwise mangling or stripping it from a spot through improper technique. In woody shrubs and trees, major disruptions of the bark can make the plant more disease prone or kill part of it outright.
Always use the proper tool for the job, and make sure it’s sharp. On smaller dead or diseased spots, use the hand pruning scissors. Make a 45 degree cut as little as a few millimeters from the first healthy bud on the branch as you can manage.
If you find yourself having to remove a larger interior branch entirely, size it up before attempting to take it with the lopper, because it might be too thick and require the use of a saw. No matter the tool, when taking down a larger diameter branch it is imperative to make a relief cut through the underside or backside bark before proceeding through the rest of the branch. Again, the goal is a precise and clean cut, this time behind a joint that might split if unequally weighted, or close to the trunk so as not to create a future piece of deadfall. The relief cut is to prevent the branch from tearing away bark during those last millimeters of cutting.
For most trees and shrubs, it is wisest to prune from the inside out. Remove branches that rub against each other and/or may be impeding another’s growth. Also remove dead wood and any branch that appears diseased or unhealthy. If you would like to reduce the height of a plant, never simply chop off the top. Instead, locate the tallest branches and trim them down to more acceptable height. Always do your best to prune at the trunk or at a juncture of another major branch of the plant.
If you have a pruning disaster in your Calgary yard or business, give us a call for a free no obligation quote. Our experienced landscape maintenance experts will come by to see what we can do for you and your plants.