Gardeners know that pruning keeps a tree or shrub healthy and beautiful. It takes away dead or diseased wood, shapes a tree or shrub with an unruly habit and improves the air circulation among the branches. But there are some things about pruning that the average person may not know. Here are five of them:
1. Not All Trees are Pruned at the Same Time
Many people think that all trees are pruned in the winter or very early spring, when they’re dormant. However, there are trees that are best pruned right after they flower. This is done because pruning them too early in the year would sacrifice the flowers that usually arrive in spring and summer. Trees and shrubs that are best pruned after they flower are dogwoods, mountain laurels, azaleas, rhododendrons and spirea.
2. There are Good Cuts and Bad Cuts
A good cut is about 1/4 inch above a bud and slopes down and away from it at a 45 degree angle. This keeps water, either rainwater or water from a hose, flowing over the cut and draining away from the bud. This protects the bud from rot. Bad cuts are those where the angle of the cut is too steep, where the cut is too far from the bud and where the cut is too close to the bud.
3. A Cut Can Influence the Way the Branch Grows
A gardener looks for a bud on a branch that points the way they want the new shoot to grow. They then place the blades of the pruning sheers parallel to the direction where the bud points and cuts through the branch cleanly. Make sure that the shears are very sharp, for dull shears tear and crush the branch and invite disease.
4. Prune Suckers and Water Sprouts
Suckers are branches that grow from the roots of the plant and steal nutrients and water from it because they grow faster than the mother plant itself. They should be cut off at the ground, and some gardeners believe they should be torn out by hand if possible. Other growths to cut off are water sprouts, which are suckers that grow up from a branch or the trunk of the tree. Water sprouts are useless because they don’t produce fruit or flowers, are unsightly and invite pests. They should be cut off their base.
5. Be Gentle with Conifers
Conifers such as yew, arborvitae, cypress, pine and taxus need to be pruned gently. If they are pruned back to old wood, new wood won’t develop as it does on hardwood trees. This can leave unsightly bald patches in the shrub or tree.