A GROWING CONCERN: Don’t let pruning stump you

BEFORE WE START, let me give a spoiler alert — ladders fail — big time.

So my back and the four broken-clean tips of my lumbar transverses will painfully attest.

You do not even need to fall off a ladder, which is often caused by fatigue, overreaching, standing too far up the ladder (top rung not to be used as a step) or improper equipment.

As in my case, it could just be mechanical failure causing the bolt to break.

Down comes the ladder, Andrew semi-attached, on to concrete.

So please, as we continue to discuss pruning, be careful.

Have spotters, check the equipment and take your time because a bad back is far worse than bad pruning.

With that said, I have personally identified seven reasons why one should prune their plants.

All pruning can fall into these reasons and most often there are several reasons in a single cut.

So let us begin this pruning discourse by first reviewing the seven reasons you prune:

1. To remove dead, dying or injured members.

At any time of the year, one should prune away all dead wood on a plant and any plant part that is diseased, discolored, torn, tattered, split, cracked or that rubs against another piece of the plant.

This material harbors disease, is fertile habitat for insects, negativity and impacts the aesthetics of the plant.

Cut away those branches or stems that cross over or through the plant as well as those pieces that display errant growth.

2. To check growth where space is limited.

This is the most common reason people prune.

We prune plants to keep them in proper perspective to their location.

Remember, picking the right plant for the right spot first can be your most effective way to reduce intensive and time-consuming pruning.

3. To thin plants.

Many of your plants naturally grow thick or become a tangled mass because of previous prunings.

We thin plants that have been neglected, overgrown or have thickened because of heading cuts (to be discussed next week).

Thinning is vital because it allows for air movement throughout the interior as well as sunlight penetration.

Air movement and sunlight greatly reduce pestilence as well as keep interior nodes (areas where new growth can emerge) viable.

4. To encourage root growth.

Here, let’s put down the pruners and pick up the shovel.

All pruning is stimulating and root pruning is no exception.

Many times old fruit trees, as well as various vines like wisteria, fail to flower or fruit because of an inadequate root system.

By thrusting a shovel deep into the ground, about 12- to 18-inches in-depth at the drip line, we sever the feeder roots — stimulating a whole new set of branches to grow.

Next, when transplanting or buying bare-root items, you should prune the roots at a node to encourage new production.

Finally, we root prune by severely pruning the top growth of new plants, like edible fruits or clematis, in order for the rest of the root system to develop in proportion to the plant’s growth.

5. To alter intelligently the form of the plant.

This is my favorite reason.

All of your pruning should have No. 5 as a core concept because only when each and every pruning cut you make is for an exact, predetermined reason are you pruning rather than committing plant butchery.

By determining the shape and direction of your plant, you become the master of your plant and not the other way around.

Topiary, bonsai and hedges would be quintessential examples of this form, but for extra credit go rent the best plant pruning movie ever made — “Edward Scissorhands.”

6. To encourage fruit/ flower/ foliage production.

This should be a prime driving force behind your shears.

Roses, pussy willows, apples, grapes, raspberries, photinia, coral bark maple and red twig are great examples of this type of pruning.

Basically, heading cuts are required.

Next week we will delve deep into this subject, but for now just realize proper pruning doubles or triples the flowers, fruit and colored leaves.

7. To rehabilitate or rejuvenate plants.

I like to tell clients that this form of pruning is an effort to stave off the excavator or the chainsaw.

We rejuvenate plants that have been neglected, are way too large, spindly, ragged or just plain ugly.

By definition, this type of pruning removes 60 percent or more of the actual mass of the plant and results in a lush, compact, full-flowering specimen.

Rhodies, lilacs, dogwoods, roses, vines, old hedges, spireas, potentilla and forsythias are prime candidates for reclamation techniques.

So, for this week, look at your plants.

Think about the reasons they need pruning.

Sharpen your equipment.

Buy a new set of pruners and do some dead-wooding for starters.

Pruning done well is one of the easiest ways to make your yard look like a botanical wonder.

________

Andrew May is a freelance writer and 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 news@peninsuladailynews.com (subject line: Andrew May).

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