A GROWING CONCERN: Pruning is the name of the game

I WISH YOU all the best and may your lawns be deep green, your yards be mole-, horsetail- and weed-free and all your flowers bloom in 2017.

To this end last week, on Christmas day, we discussed the miracle of pruning, and with both the weather and darkness playing perfectly in our favor: pruning now is “the name of the game.”

I have written a few times before but I believe it is worth repeating, therefore let’s get you up to speed as we spend today on an intensive pruning short course.

Seven reasons

So let us review the seven reasons you prune.

• 1. To remove dead, dying or injured members.

At any time of the year, one should prune away all deadwood on a 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 and negatively impacts the aesthetics of the plant.

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

• 2. To check space where space is limited.

This is most likely the No. 1 reason you 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 most effective 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, over grown 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 sun light 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 such as wisteria fail to grow flowers or fruit because of an inadequate root system. By thrusting a shovel deep in the ground, say 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 one transplants or buys bare root items, you should prune the roots at a node to encourage new root production.

Finally, we root prune by pruning severely the top growth of new plants, such as edible fruits or clematis, in order for the rest of the roots 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 rather than the other way around.

Topiary, bonsai and hedges would be quintessential examples of the 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 maples and red twig dog woods are great examples of this type of pruning.

Basically, heading cuts are required. Next week we will cut deep into that subject, but for now just realize proper pruning doubles or triples flowers, fruit and colored leaves.

• 7. To rehabilitate or rejuvenate plants.

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

We rejuvenated plants that have been neglected, are way too large, spindly or 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 specimen.

Rhodies, lilacs, dogwoods, roses, vines, old hedges, spireas, potentillas and forstyhias 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 Felco pruners and go do some dead wooding.

This will be in preparation for next week’s column on the three tenants of pruning and two types of cuts.


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@peninsula dailynews.com (subject line: Andrew May).

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