Pruning: Practice Makes Perfect

— Written By
Pruning crape myrtles by removing part of the main branches is a common practice. Although it is common, it has detrimental side effects. This pruning method reduces the number of blooms, delays flowering, and creates weak branches.

Pruning crape myrtles by removing part of the main branches is a common practice. Although it is common, it has detrimental side effects. This pruning method reduces the number of blooms, delays flowering, and creates weak branches.

Pruning is one of the most challenging and fun tasks of gardening. Most fruit trees and bushes require it for good fruit set. Although pruning is not necessary for every plant in the landscape, it often improves the health and performance of ornamental plants.

One of the most important reasons to prune plants is to remove what are referred to as the “three Ds” – dead, diseased, or damaged wood. This can be done at any time of the year.

There are exceptions to every rule, and in this case, it is apple and pear trees that have fire blight. Trees that are infected should be pruned only during the winter months when the bacteria is not active.

There are several other reasons to prune ornamental plants including improving a plant’s shape, controlling its size, and promoting flowering. Whatever the reason for pruning, timing is important. As a rule of thumb, prune spring flowering shrubs, like azaleas and forsythia, after they flower. Prune summer blooming shrubs, like abelia and hollies in late winter, before bud break.

Avoid pruning in late fall. Pruning will stimulate new, succulent growth, which is easily killed by cool fall temperatures.

Many people question how much to take off. A general guideline is to not remove more than a third of the canopy of a tree or shrub at one time. Doing so may be too much stress for the plant to recover. If you’re unsure of how much of the plant to prune, repeatedly remove small amounts until the desired effect is achieved.

Certain plants, like crape myrtles, can usually withstand more drastic pruning but only if they’re healthy. The popular method of pruning crape myrtles (aka crape murder), where main branches are removed, results in fewer blossoms and delayed flowering.

When pruning plants, I have found that it is best to begin with the end in mind. Know what you want the plant to look like before you begin cutting. I like to prune a little and then step back to see how the plant looks from a distance, so I don’t get carried away.

Do not treat pruning cuts. It was once recommended to treat wounds created by pruning with a sealer, but studies have shown that it can inhibit a plant’s natural healing process and foster decay of plant tissue. Given adequate time, a healthy tree will heal itself.

Pruning can be an unsettling experience to beginning gardeners, as they cut away what you’ve worked so hard to grow. But with a little practice, gardeners will gain confidence in knowing that they are improving the plant not hurting it.

For more information on this topic, download a copy of Pruning Trees and Shrubs at http://go.ncsu.edu/prune or call the Caldwell Extension Service at 828-757-1290 for a copy.

Cooperative Extension will host a blueberry pruning demonstration on February 17 from 2 to 4 p.m. at 11 Providence Street in Granite Falls. Event is free, but registration is required. Call the Extension office to register.