Pruning trees and shrubs may be the most feared act in gardening. Using sharp metal objects to cut away life goes against our natural inclinations.
Remember that Nature is the Great Pruner. For example, when trees grow too close together, branches die as they compete for sunlight and airflow.
Pruning is a vital part of gardening. The key is to know why we're sharpening our shears. Consider these three reasons:
Remove to improve. Thinning is about cutting out all dead, diseased, and injured parts to let in more air and light. Most important, thinning prevents confusion of a plant's structural line and enhances it health.
In Nature, most plants we grow are in splendid isolation, trying to spread unnaturally fast. Our job is to prevent certain shrubs and trees from outgrowing their position in a yard. Judicious reducing helps plants develop into sound structures without over-stressing their limbs. Also, maximum flowering and bountiful fruit are only possible by pruning.
It sounds harsh, but severe pruning is necessary to restore older trees and shrubs to better health. Most plants are amazingly forgiving with experimentation. Think twice, cut once, and watch carefully. Your plants will tell you in their own way how to do better next season.
Here are some pruning pointers for late winter and early spring. Plants are dormant but the coldest part of winter has passed, lowering the chance of cold damage near pruning cuts.
- Prune butterfly bush severely. These plants bloom only on new shoots. Stimulate new growth by lopping the whole plant to within a few inches of the ground.
- Cut to the ground some or all of the oldest stems of shrubby dogwoods. This will make way for the youngest stems that will provide next winter’s show of bright yellow or red.
- On apple and other fruit trees, cut water sprouts right to their bases. These vigorous, upright shots soak up the plant’s energy and bear few or no flowers or fruits. Remove weak twigs.
- For smooth hydrangea, cut all stems to the ground. For bigleaf or oakleaf hydrangea, cut stems with old flowers still attached back to fat flower buds.
- For lilacs, remove all dead canes. Cut out all crossing branches, keeping the strongest or most useful ones for a graceful form. Cut back last year’s growth dramatically, though never more than one-third of the live wood.