A GROWING CONCERN: Remember the three tenets of pruning

SO ONCE AGAIN, happy New Year.

We start a whole new gardening year and right now it is so perfectly cold, it’s ideal for the annual event: Pruning.

Your orchard should be your No. 1 concern because here on the North Olympic Peninsula it is so wonderfully mild which means that fruit trees bleed (exude sap) both late into the dormant season and extremely early at the end of winter.

Last week, we talked about the seven reasons to prune and how we would expand on pruning yet again today.

Do not forget: There are only two types of cuts — thinning and heading — and they make all the difference.

Thinning cuts are the ones people should do most of the time but don’t.

A thinning cut removes a branch, stem, limb, cane or lateral at the point where it radiates from another.

You cut it off at its spot of origin.

This thinning cut does not produce any new growth at the spot of the cut but rather diverts energy to that segment’s other tips.

That in turn produces more flowers, fruit and leaves.

It also permanently removes that segment of growth now and in the future, which can be really advantageous.

Heading cuts

A heading cut, however, produces new growth at the exact spot of the cut, usually manifesting as two or more shoots and is achieved by cutting across a trunk, cane, stem, branch, limb or lateral above a node.

Nodes are areas along the plant’s non-foliage growth that have or could have leaves, branches, stems or lateral growing out from them.

Nodes are often little scars or strange shapes or rings around the branch or stem.

If one cuts just one-eighth to one-forth of an inch above them, then plant hormones are released and new growth occurs.

So with these two types of cuts and the seven reasons to prune, I have developed three tenets to all pruning.

• 1. Every cut must have a reason.

This is the essence of pruning — otherwise why are you doing it?

But the reason is your decision, whether it’s to not let the plants grow back into the driveway or to double the rhododendron flowers, or perhaps to just make it look better.

For whatever reason, each cut should be stopping or promoting growth because of your reasoning.

This is why, for me, it is hard to prune for more than three or four hours because of the mental drain of more than 2,500 decisions, one mind game per cut, in that amount of time.

When each cut makes sense, then you are truly pruning and creating and it is a beautiful thing.

And with just two cuts, you get a 50/50 chance of perfection, right?

But with making a purposeful choice on each and every cut that percent skyrockets to near 100 percent.

• 2. See the inner plants yearning to be set free.

Remember, you are always pruning for the future: What you want, where you want the plant to grow and where you don’t want it to.

If you can’t picture in your mind what the future shape of your plant will look like, how can you prune it?

You can only butcher it at best, and I have seen the worst. So step back, look at your plants and see that beautiful specimen ready to be pruned out and brought forth by you and your decisions on how to prune.

3. Have confidence.

You must be confident in what you are doing.

If you’re not, then you are most likely pruning without knowledge, and that is most likely not a good thing.

If you lack confidence, take classes, read more pruning books, browse the internet or hire it out to a professional.

And remember two things here: First, most people — and lots of those hired — are pruning so horribly that no one is likely to recognize that you are, and second, your plants will thank you because they benefit greatly from a good haircut and so many of your fancy ornamentals require a good, hard, abundant prune.

Now go use this cold snap and prune, baby, prune.


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] dailynews.com (subject line: Andrew May).

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