Pruning is an essential task that will keep all of your plants looking their best. While some plants require only minimal pruning, others take a little more care. One of the main objectives in pruning any vegetation is to allow light and air to circulate around the plant, to remove dead or diseased foliage or branches and to encourage new growth. However, not all plants require the same amount of pruning and timing is also essential.
Here are some tips to help keep your evergreens, deciduous trees, flowers and berries healthy and happy.
Broadleaf evergreens such as holly and some magnolias require very little pruning. If necessary, prune them in early spring before the new growth starts. Minor shaping can be done any time of the year as long as you don’t take too much off.
Needle Leaf Evergreens
Prune needle leaf evergreens including firs, yews and false cypress along with evergreens with scalelike foliage (juniper, cypress, arbovitae) early in the growing season. A word of caution when pruning these shrubs and trees is to avoid cutting back wood that does not have any green needles. Doing so may impede new growth. If you wish to use some of the greenery for home decor projects during the winter, it's ok to snip a few branches - no harm will come.
Major pruning of pines is best done during the winter months, unless you are pruning to encourage dwarfing. This process is called “candling” and is done when new growth on the ends of branches is about 4 inches long.
It is called candling because the growth resembles a candle. You don’t need any tools to candle, you can actually break the new growth as it appears in the spring. Break the candle in half with your fingers - if you use shears it will cut the tips of needles and they will turn brown. When you break the candle, the buds at the base of the candle will grow and several shoots will appear. This causes the canopy to become more dense. Some people want to “thin” pines to keep them from blowing over in storms. However, if side branches are removed with a stem it could decrease the strength of the branch and cause breakage. Thin only when necessary and do so with caution.
Deciduous Shade Trees
Deciduous trees including linden, oak and ash are best pruned when they are dormant in the winter. With the leaves gone, it is easier to see where you are pruning and follow the natural habitat of the tree. In addition, winter pruning will help reduce the spread of disease causing bacteria.
Keep in mind that trees that produce thick sap such as elms, dogwoods, birches and maples will bleed when pruned. Although the sap will look bad it does not harm the tree. If you wish to avoid bleeding, prune these tees in the summer after leaves are full.
Deciduous Fruit Trees
The main objective to pruning fruit trees is to allow more light and air to circulate - this will help with fruit yield. Apples, pears, plums, cherries and peaches are best pruned during the midwinter. You will remove some of the buds when pruning but don't worry too much about that.
Pruning in the dormant season will reduce the spread of fireblight-causing bacteria. Always remember to keep your pruning tools clean. You can dip them in 1-part alcohol, 1-part bleach and 9-parts water to help keep down the spread of harmful bacteria.
Most perennial flowers are pretty easy keepers. However, if you want maximum bloom it's a good idea to remove spent flowers - right after they have bloomed. This process is called deadheading and is best done with your hands. Simply pop the dead flowers off the stems. After deadheading, many perennial flowers will reward you with a second bloom. For fast growing perennials that become tall quickly, a haircut may be in order. Simply cut back the plant to about 12 inches above the ground. This will result in a stockier plant.
Like perennial flowers, annuals benefit from regular deadheading to remove old flowers. When you deadhead it keeps the plant’s energy from going to seed production and results in a healthier looking plant with nicer blooms. If you have annuals that like to get leggy, such as petunias, you can cut them back to encourage bushier growth and more bloom.
Bush berries such as blueberries, currants and gooseberries produce fruit on stems that are less than three years old. It is important to prune out about one-third of the older growth in order to encourage new stems. Prune bushes when they are dormant, during the winter months, cutting the old stems all the way to the ground.
Blackberries and raspberries produce fruit on second-year canes, or stems. Once the cane bears fruit it dies and new canes develop that will produce fruit the following year. It is important to remove the second year canes as soon as they finish fruiting - remember, they are finished and will not produce any more fruit. When the new canes reach about 3 feet tall it is important to pinch back the tips so that the cane will branch out.
There is one exception to this pruning rule, that is everbearing raspberries. These plants produce a crop late in the season on first year wood. Do not pinch back these canes in midseason, but allow them to flower to produce a fall crop. In the winter, remove the tips of the stems that produced fruit. During the next season, the bottom part of the stem will bear fruit. Once it is finished fruiting, remove the cane completely.
To keep grapes producing, pruning during the dormant season is essential. If you are training your grapes with one main stem and several arms (which is recommended), prune lateral arms back to the main trunk. Grapes bear fruit on these lateral arms on current season growth.
Looking for more pruning tips? Check out "Hands on With Doityourself.com: Pruning."