A GROWING CONCERN: The three tenets of pruning

Last week we learned the seven reasons to prune; now we whittle that number further, to the three ever-present tenets of pruning.

1. Have confidence. You must be confident in what you are doing, gained with the knowledge of each cut.

If you’re not confident, 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: First, most people, and lots of those hired, are pruning so horribly that no one is likely to recognize that you are. Second, your plants will thank you because they greatly benefit from a good haircut.

2. See the inner plant, yearning to be set free.

Remember you are always pruning for the future, so what you want and where you want the plant to grow, and where you do not want it to grow, is the reason behind each cut. If you can’t picture in your mind what the shape of your plant will look like, once the cut is made and the plant continues to grow out, how can you make a pruning cut?

You can only butcher the plant at best; I have seen the worst pruning.

So step back, look at your plant, and see that beautiful specimen ready to be pruned out and brought forth by you.

3. Every cut must have a reason.

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

But the reason is your decision — not to let the plant grow back into the driveway, or to double the rhododendron flowers, perhaps even just to make it look less horrible.

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 to 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’s a beautiful thing.

Here’s the dirty little secret of pruning: With all of your plants, those seven reasons, the three tenets, with all that, there are only two types of cuts.

Yep, just two. So how can people goof it up so badly, you ask. As the gardener holding the pruners. Theoretically you have a 50-50 chance, right?

The two types of cuts are heading cuts and thinning cuts.

Thinning cuts

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 if off at its spot or origin.

This thinning cut does not produce any new growth at the point 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 new 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 nonfoliage growth that have leaves, branches, stems or laterals growing from them.

Nodes are often little scars or strange shapes, rings around the branch or stem. If one cuts just one-eighth to one-fourth of an inch above them, then plant hormones are released, and new growth occurs.

Why head off?

We make heading cuts to create lush plants, more flowers, more fruit, thicker hedges or a better wind screen.

But if you do heading cuts, you must do thinning cuts later or your plant turns into a thicket — a dense mass of live and dead organic material.

And when you head off, the first node will be the one that grows the fastest and best, in the exact direction it is pointing.

This is why you head it off at the node, stimulating it to grow in the direction you desire.

This is the art of pruning.

Last week, I told you to go sharpen those Felco’s, and that I’d let you know what that is if you didn’t already know.

The No. 1, absolute best pruning tool, bar none, and best pruner as well, is a Felco Pruner. Felco brand is world renown, comes in left-handed models and a variety of designs crafted for specific tasks and hand strength.

Do yourself a gigantic favor and purchase a Felco.

From my Felco pruners to yours, go forth and be a gardening Monet.


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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