rinda's blog
Spring Pruning

Spring is the best time to prune many of your shrubs and trees, and it's not rocket science, but you do need a few guidelines. If you read these through and decide you'd like me to come take care of spring pruning, just give a call and I'll schedule a time with you.

Why prune?

For plant health:
To train the plant:

The first rule of thumb for pruning flowering trees and shrubs is: if they flower in the spring, don't prune till after they flower. These plants flower on last year's growth, and they've already set their buds. If you cut now, you'll lose the blooms. If they flower later in the summer, they probably flower on new growth, so you can prune early and not lose blooms.

If you don't know whether your plant is early or late blooming, blooms on new growth or old, use your search engine to find out by typing in 'prune (species name)'. You'll get lots of information.

For plant health, it's a good idea to prune away dead or crossing branches in shrubs and trees. You want to walk all around the plant and identify the dead, damaged, diseased, and insect infested wood first. Remove those branches. Then determine if there are crossing branches that are or will soon be rubbing against each other. Choose which of these is easier to prune, and cut it right to the branch or trunk. You can also remove water sprouts - those funny looking branches that grow straight up. In addition, if the plant is too dense in the middle, it's a good idea to thin it out a bit.

You'll need a pair of good, sharp pruners for this work. A pruning saw is also a good tool to have. Clean and sharpen your pruners before you start. Clean them with some rubbing alcohol and sharpen with a whetstone.

Pruning cuts: You want to make the cut on an angle, not straight across. This has to do with not drying out the branch. If you are not taking out an entire branch, prune to a bud that is pointed in the direction you want the branch to grow. Cut just above the bud, about ", on an angle. If you are taking out an entire branch, especially if you're pruning a tree, cut close to the trunk but don't damage the branch bark ridge. This is a ridge of cells that forms an upside down U on the top of the joint where the branch joins the trunk. You want to make a clean cut that leaves this intact, but that doesn't leave a stub.

Renewal and Rejuvenation pruning: Say your old red-twigged dogwood has lapsed into tan or brown twigs, say it's gone a little shapeless. Renewal pruning involves cutting out about a third of the oldest stems. This gives the young, redder stems room to grow, better air circulation, and less competition. You can do this with lilacs too. In fact, there are plants that will be happy with a rejuvenation pruning, where you cut back hard. The roots are still alive, and the plant will send out new shoots and reinvigorate itself. Plants in this category include Buddleia, Spirea, Forsythia, and Honeysuckle. It does make the plant smaller for a season or two, so close to the house, you're probably better off doing renewal pruning in a 3 year cycle.

As for trimming evergreens, the biggest mistake people make is in pruning them so they're broader at the top than at the base. This deprives the lower half of the plant of sun and results in those plants you see around the foundations of some homes where there's abundant needles on top and bare legs beneath. You need to prune evergreen hedges so that the base of the plant is slightly wider than the top. If my keyboard would draw, I'd draw it for you. It's best to trim evergreens before the new flush of growth in the spring.

A note on evergreens: don't ever cut past where there's green. Many evergreens have a 'dead zone' close to the trunk or main stem, and if you cut away the live growth, they won't regenerate.

Pruning for aesthetics is, of course, a matter of taste. The first rule is to have a goal. Decide what you want the plant to look like - do you want it not to sprawl over a walkway? Do you want it to grow more toward the garage? Do you want it to look like a pyramid or Mickey Mouse or would you rather have it follow its natural form?

Stand back and assess the plant, and then prune slowly, standing back after every couple of cuts to ensure you're not overdoing one side or getting a little too enthusiastic. Is the tree or shrub retaining the form you want? Is it symmetrical? Is it beginning to look hollow? Don't take too much - you can always go back tomorrow and prune some more, but only nature can produce the new growth.

Wait till your spring-flowering shrubs have finished before pruning them. Then be guided by your purpose - to ensure the plant's health, to train it to a particular habit, to renew it. It's also smart to deadhead spring-blooming shrubs so that next year's blooms will be abundant. For many, just snip off the spent blooms. For shrubs that bloom on long stems, take the whole stem; forsythia, for instance, can be deadheaded to just below where the flowering began, and the same applies to spireas.

With roses, if you have the hardy ones (which are the kind I will recommend), cut away dead canes. Cut crossing canes. Cut to a bud. Cut for future growth. If your climbing roses have overreached, cut them significantly below where you want them to grow this summer. Hardy roses are very hardy; you can cut out a lot and still get great bloom.

Again, if you're not sure and you'd like some help, just give me a call.

Pruning Cut