A GROWING CONCERN: Learning to prune with confidence

ONCE AGAIN, YOU, the gardeners of the Olympic Peninsula, have been amazing — turning out in droves to prune away the lights at the Winter Village ice skating rink.

All-in-all, between prep, set up and tear down, 81 people came down and volunteered. Thank you. Thank you.

And spoiler alert, we will be back next year, bigger, better and needing even more help.

Talking about needing help, I believe the best thing I do is pruning, but only because the competition is so bad.

With this said, lets cut away into a couple of weeks’ articles on pruning — because now is the time.

Smart pruning

Today is still mid-winter and with this let us start a course on pruning your entire yard.

We will go through essential information and some tricks to achieve botanical wonder.

I first want to lay down some quick tenets in pruning.

1. Have confidence. Don’t be afraid to really cut away.

I believe the number one reason for poor pruning results is the inability of many people to cut away vast hunks of the plant, especially if the plant has new buds or flowers coming on.

Certain plants (roses) should be in a constant state of being pruned low after individual stalks flower.

Be prepared to cut away 30 percent to 50 percent or more of certain plants.

2. Learn to see the inner plant.

I never, ever prune any plant without first, in my minds eye, seeing the finished plant.

There is a perfect place to prune each plant for the ideal results you want to achieve.

Combined with that is the fact that many plants have interior layers and pruning along these lines gives the plant a natural look.

Many plants have stems or branches that must be cut out because they are either old (lilacs, roses, dogwoods) they cross over other branches (apples, cherries, magnolias), they are sucker shoots (all fruit trees), or they are just plain out-of-the-perfect shape.

Before pruning, step back, look carefully at the surgery and see the finished inner plant waiting to be set free.

3. Every cut must have a reason.

This is the quintessential essence of pruning. Plant butchery is hacking away some amount because the window or something else happens to be there.

Pruning is when I think about how the growth will occur from my pruning, then calculate the length of growth until my next pruning.

First, always prune on a node. A node is that critical area on any stem where a branch, bud or leaf originates.

There do not have to be leaves present (leaf scar).

A node most always is a line running around the stem with some kind of mark, dot or shape at the exact spot the new growth will emerge.

Also know that new growth takes off from, and only from, that point.

Think ahead

It grows in that direction at an accelerated rate due to stimulation by the prune.

So, in pruning not only are you looking for a node to cut right atop of, but also you are looking for a node that has a direction of growth desired.

If pruning out a window, select a node well below this coming year’s new growth and at a node pointing not directly back up at the window or towards the house.

For example, an apple tree would be pruned at nodes pointing downward, creating arching branches that would be easy to pick.

Cutting close atop a node releases plant chemicals that not only stimulate growth, but also seal off the cut.

Cutting between node leaves a “horn” which can rot and disease the entire plant.

For this week, just get used to cutting off big hunks and making big piles.

Seek out all crossover branches and remove them.

If they are larger than a lopper can cut, use an orchard saw — but always make your undercut first and deep at the bottom of the offending branch or you will strip off a big piece of the trunk.

Next, cut any old, decaying, split branches from trees, shrubs and bushes.

Lastly, cut down severely all your potentilla and low growing spirea (2 to 4 foot). Reduce to perfect circular mounds 10 to 12 inches high.

When that is finished, at ground level remove the top 15 percent of those biggest, woodiest stems. They will be easy to see now and this will rejuvenate the bush.

Next week will be more information about pruning. Stay tuned.


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 news@peninsuladailynews.com (subject line: Andrew May).

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