Landscape Plants Benefit From Pruning with Healthier Growth
Landscape plants can be vigorous growers and benefit from pruning to keep an attractive shape in the landscape. Pruning requires basic hand pruners, loppers, and hand saws. Pruning can be done February through August (during good weather, of course) to control the size, structure, and health of landscape trees, shrubs, and fruit-bearing plants.
A plant’s reaction to pruning is a flourish of growth to repair and replace what was removed. Late summer pruning, therefore, is not advised. If a plant continues in active growth late into the season, it may not be able to go dormant fully before temperatures drop and may suffer freeze damage. Pruning in September and October should be avoided. Some pruning can be done in November and December once the shrubs are dormant.
How to Prune Trees
To have healthy trees, annual pruning is a necessary task.
The first step is to prune out the dead, diseased, and broken branches. This will remove the source of future disease attacks and encourage rapid healing of damaged tissue. Remove diseased branches by cutting at least six inches into healthy wood to the next bud, branch, or trunk. Avoid leaving a stub when cutting back to a branch or trunk but do leave the branch collar (swelling at base of branch) to provide for rapid healing of the wound you make. Stubs do not heal well and provide an opening for insects and diseases.
Prune out branches that are crossed and potentially rubbing. As they grow, the rubbing area could become an opening where insects or diseases could enter the plant.
Thinning the branches and removing unnecessary sucker growth (rapid growing vertical branches) will allow air and light to pass through the foliage, reducing the potential for disease development and wind damage.
How to Prune Flowering Shrubs
Flowering and evergreen shrubs also benefit from pruning to produce an attractive plant. Flowering shrubs should be pruned after they bloom. Most spring flowering shrubs (bloom before the 1st of June) will put on new growth right after blooming and develop next year’s flower buds later in the season. Late trimming (summer pruning) will remove these flower buds. Shrubs that flower after June 1st can be pruned in the spring.
Shearing, though easily done with hand or power shears, is not good for every type of shrub. Most deciduous flowering shrubs do not respond well to shearing. Poor growth, poor flowering, and die back develop after just a few years of only shearing.
Hand pruning first to remove the diseased branches and thin the growth to allow light and air deeper into the plant, followed with light shearing, leads to better results with all shrubs. Rejuvenating older shrubs helps control size and improve health and vigor. By removing the oldest stems close to the base of the plant, new stems will be encouraged to sprout from base. The new growth will be more vigorous and healthy.
Each tree or shrub species grows slightly different, so it is important to be familiar with their growth habits. Detailed books and publications that show the proper cutting methods include:
- Getting Started Pruning Fruit Trees from Michigan State University Extension
- Pruning Landscape Trees from the University of Kentucky
- Pruning Landscape Shrubs from the University of Kentucky
- Pruning Ornamental Plants from Clemson Cooperative Extension