A GROWING CONCERN: For many reasons, now is the time to prune

PRUNING. THERE IS no question in my mind that, by far, the best thing that I do horticulturally is pruning.

But that is only because of how difficult it can be and how the timing is just so crucial.

And truth be told, pruning really is not that difficult per each specific plant. It is just that you have so many different plants and they each have their own particular wants and needs when it comes to pruning.

A good time to prune one plant may be a horrible time for another.

So with all this said, right now is a prime time to prune. And as I prepare for the upcoming Peninsula College Pruning class I excitedly await to teach, it dawns on me that I will once again print my list of “Seven Reasons Why You Prune.”

To know the reasons listed, I believe, is to understand why you prune anything.

1. To remove dead, dying or injured plant parts.

At any time of the year you can, and always should, prune away any errant, disfigured, dead or injured plant pieces along with crossover branches or ones that rub against one another (or rub against your house or parked car).

By removing poor, weakened, sickly or dead growth, you increase the overall appearance of the plant and remove growth that fosters disease and insects.

Do this pruning when you first buy plants; after storms, heavy snowfall or severe wind storms; after parties; before major events in the yard; or whenever you have time.

2. To check growth where space is limited.

This, unfortunately, is the most common reason people prune.

Too often plants are placed too close to one another, the house or the driveway, or are too tall for the view or window sill.

Sometimes a chain saw or transplant shovel is the best option, rather than pruning it.

However, plants grow vigorously here on the Peninsula, so now is the time to remove branches overhanging the driveway, garage or the house.

February is the perfect time to lower the hedge, shear down bushes in front of the window or untangle competing and encroaching branches from nearby plants.

3. To thin out plants.

This should be people’s No. 1 reason to prune, but alas, it is not.

It is however, my reason.

As we head off our plants, shearing or cutting the tips off, we naturally produce a thick and then too thick of a plant, because heading cuts beget new and abundant growth.

A gardener needs to constantly thin away branches, stems and laterals by removing them at the point of origin.

That is the definition of a thinning cut, prune to remove the plant piece at the point it grows off another.

This type of pruning is extremely beneficial because it opens up the plant to air circulation and light, both of which are essential to healthy growth.

4. To encourage root growth.

I cover this all of the time: All pruning is stimulating and beneficial. And so it is, when it comes to root pruning.

Remember, this root-enhancing method is a great secret in rejuvenating old orchard trees or big vines, precisely because it jump-starts root production and thus shakes up neglected plants.

Just simply thrust a “trench shovel” down twelve inches or more around the entire perimeter of the plant, just inside the drip line (i.e. ring of outer foliage).

5. To alter intelligently the form.

This is my favorite reason to prune, so it should be all of yours because if you do not perform this in conjunction with any of the other reasons, you are not pruning.

The reason you, or anyone prunes, is to alter the plant to a preferred look, height, shape, level of production, health or size.

Plant butchery is when you just hack at the plant for an arbitrary reason, the window height, driveway edge or being six inches distance off the house, without considering what is best for the plant.

All cuts should produce a predetermined result.

Always prune intelligently.

6. To encourage fruit/flower/foliage production.

Many plants dramatically increase production with proper pruning.

Apples trees, cherries, nuts and berries all prosper greatly with correct pruning in order to increase fruit.

Roses bloom far more profusely with correct pruning, as do lilacs, rhododendrons and many, if not all, woody ornamentals.

Evergreen trees are sheared to produce full, lush, dense Christmas trees, and your hedges become thick (do not forget to thin) with numerous prunings.

Increased flowers, fruit and foliage are great reasons to prune, and this month is ideal.

7. Rejuvenate/rehab suffering plants.

Rehabilitating or rejuvenating prunes, by definition, removes more than 60 percent of the plant.

This type of pruning is an effort to ward off the chain saw or compost pile.

Rhododendrons are prime plants for rejuvenation, as are roses, lilacs, potentillas, pussy willows, forsythia, spireas and big, nasty orchard trees (however the latter takes two to three years to rejuvenate).

Go ahead and take 6-foot hydrangeas and 10-foot red-twig dogwoods down to 4-6 inches in an effort to rehabilitate their old, blistered, tired and diseased look, and it will work perfectly.

There is your list of seven reasons to prune. Remember, many work in conjunction, but few domesticated plants work well without some pruning.

I will continue on this pruning theme next week.

So in the meantime, go sharpen those Felco’s (or stay tuned next week to learn what that is).

Happy pruning, sprouts.


Andrew May is an ornamental horticulturist who dreams of having Clallam and Jefferson counties nationally recognized as “Flower Peninsula USA.” Send him questions c/o Peninsula Daily News, P.O. Box 1330, Port Angeles, WA 98362, or email [email protected] (subject line: Andrew May).

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