Give me some good loppers and a pruning saw, and I am a happy woman. Pruning is my favorite garden chore. I don't have to do it very often, and the results are both immediate and long term. Limbing up, shaping, and removing dead branches can all have a positive impact on a garden. Proper pruning can make a plant more attractive and healthier, promoting growth and improving the quality of stems, flowers, and fruit.
However, improper pruning can deform a plant and, in some cases can lead to a plant's decline. A lot of people are afraid to prune their shrubs and trees, and it's no wonder suburbia is half hidden by overgrown, misshapen plants.
Entire books have been written on pruning guidelines and techniques, but it is easy to remember these five basics:
1. Plant the right plant in the right place. That means a shrub that is destined to grow ten foot tall should not be planted three feet from your living room window, unless it grows slowly and you don't mind pruning it regularly. Yet, why do that, when there are many other, more appropriate plants that won't cover your windows and send their roots snaking under your foundation?
2. You can prune dead wood anytime. Otherwise, it's best to prune spring flowering plants immediately after they have bloomed. Prune summer flowering plants in late winter or very early spring. If you prune at the wrong time, you might not harm the plant, but you will reduce the next season's blooms. Also remember if you prune in late autumn, you could stimulate new growth just in time for frost.
3. To maintain a plant's natural appearance, cut in layers. Most of the time it's best to let the plant keep its identity. That means don't saw straight across the top of the plant. That is ugly. Cut some from lower, middle, and top branches, and make your cuts just above buds that point outward.
4. Hedges should be trimmed so that the top is a bit narrower than the bottom, so that sunlight reaches the lower part of the plant. Otherwise, the bottom branches will loose their leaves.
5. Use good quality, sharp tools. Dip in a 1:10 bleach solution between plants to keep from spreading disease.
6. This one is controversial, so I didn't include it in the five basics, but I think it's important to remember. Pruning is fun. It's creative. Your plants will love you for it.
While I like to think I have complete artistic control over my garden, regarding pruning I have had to compromise. My husband and I have a difference of opinion about the yaupon holly shrubs out front. I like a natural shape, but he likes the little ball look. We have discussed this for years, but he is a man who loves his power hedge trimmer. So for now my garden has a lot of these proper balls. Besides, Lou cheerfully hauls off the great piles of clippings and branches I make when I am pruning, so he deserves something for that.