by Ken Lain, the mountain gardener
With questions about pruning flooding into the garden center, there’s no doubt that pruning is in full swing. Some homeowners/gardeners new to the area are overwhelmed with where to start on a landscape that has been ‘let go’ for too many seasons. First-time homeowners just don’t have enough experience yet, so are overwhelmed by conflicting advice given by the talking heads on ‘YouTube’, or from their latest Google search.
There is probably nothing that puts fear and trepidation into a gardener’s soul more than that first cut into a tree and/or shrub. Learning to prune can be intimidating for fear of turning a plant into an ugly mess, a contorted figure in the front yard, or even worse . . . killing it outright.
It would be nice if we could only plant trees and shrubs that need no pruning at all, such as evergreens. The reality is, ornamental trees and shrubs need annual maintenance to keep them renewed and looking their best.
You may have heard that pruning trees and shrubs that bloom in summer or autumn are best pruned in winter. Also, that early spring bloomers should be pruned after they have finished blooming in spring. Sometimes, however, these rules of thumb need to be ignored because of damage, neglect, a backyard construction project, or unexpected demands on your time. Don’t worry; your trees and shrubs will be able to handle any untimely pruning. Just don’t try to make up for years of neglect in one season.
Pruning advice to consider with a word of caution.
#1 Pruning trees and shrubs at the wrong time kills them.
It’s very difficult to kill a plant simply by pruning. It may not flower for a season, but eventually, it will resume its normal cycle. There are optimum times for pruning different plants, but it has more to do with a plant’s dormancy, bleeding sap when it is actively growing, or when it sets the best flower buds. While there are optimal times to prune woody plants, if you have to prune for eased access or to remove damaged branches, you can do so at any time of the year. It will not kill the plant. Period! Enough said!
#2 Prune severely and you won’t have to prune again in summer.
It can be tempting to hack back over-grown shrubs in spring because it’s so much easier to heavily prune when a plant’s branch structure isn’t hidden behind its leaves. Unfortunately, hard pruning often stimulates new growth and lots of it! Since much of this growth will be thin, weak wood, you will have to do some thinning or it will die off on its own and cause a whole new set of problems. Severe pruning can also lead to suckers, which will require even more pruning during the following season.
It’s better to do a little maintenance pruning each year. A good rule of thumb is to never remove more than 1/3 of a shrub’s or tree’s woody growth. This retains the plant’s desired shape created from the old branches, allowing new wood to fill in the basic structure. This technique keeps your plants well-shaped, of manageable sizes, and constantly renewing themselves.
#3 Prune an ailing tree or shrub to rejuvenate it.
It’s fine to prune out branches that obviously are infected, broken or infested; but severely pruning an ailing tree puts more unwanted stress on the plant. It only forces the plant to put more energy into regrowth, and this new growth is even more susceptible to problems. Instead, try to fix whatever is making the tree sick, whether it’s a pest, a disease, or a cultural problem. Once the tree or shrub has regained vigor, you can resume maintenance pruning.
For really big issues, large tree projects or massive landscape cleanups contact Jonny’s Tree Service (928) 830-4977
#4 Seal off wounds or cuts with tree sealer, tar, or pruning paint.
This was considered a good practice a generation ago. The theory was that it would prevent insects, diseases, and moisture from getting inside the plant by way of the new cut. A plant’s woody tissue has its own mechanisms for sealing over wounds, and our efforts just inhibit the plant’s natural healing process. Sealing a wound can even seal in moisture and cause the stem to rot. However, if the wound was inflicted by a rough tear, go ahead and use a product to seal the cut. Otherwise, just let the tree or shrub heal itself.
Deer damage is when deer rub or tear bark off the trunks of aspens, maples, and certain fruit trees. This is an appropriate time to use ‘Pruning Paint’ to seal the wound. Clean out the wound, dress it with pruning paint and bandage the wound with tree wrap. See the plant professionals here at Watters for more details.
A final and really important note: It will be much better for you and your plants if you keep your pruning tools clean and sharp. Dirty tools can pass along diseases to plants throughout the landscape. Dull tools can tear and damage the plants under your care, as well as having the potential to wound you, the operator who is exerting excessive force to compensate for dull blades!
Pinterest – See more bad pruning jobs. Horrible, absolutely horrible! You won’t be able to look away from these train wrecks!
~ GARDENING CLASS ~
Feb 4 – Advanced Landscape Pruning for Spring Success
Arborist Grant Tibbots with Jonny’s Tree Service shares his insight on the best local pruning techniques. Not all plants in our yards need pruning, but timing is critical for those that do. The pruning techniques exhibited are sure to help plants bloom better and reduce disease infiltration this spring. Wear warm clothing and bring garden shoes, as this is a working demonstration on the landscape here at the garden center. Demonstrations include a walk through Watters’ vineyard and orchards.
Until next week, I’ll see you at the garden center.