Tips for Pruning Ornamental Landscape Plants

Pruning is manipulating a plant by removing branches or other parts (seed heads, leaves, buds) to render it healthier or more attractive. Knowing the proper type of plants that thrive in your location can help reduce the amount of pruning actually needed.

Trees, shrubs, and flowers have been growing for thousands of years untouched and unpruned. However, when you have a carefully designed landscape, pruning becomes necessary to preserve the plant's health and well-being. It is imperative to understand how and when to prune a particular plant. It is best not to prune a plant if you do not know how to do it correctly. Damaging a plant by poor pruning can be detrimental and cause the plant to be susceptible to illness or death.

Plants in the wild form in a way that allows them to receive sunlight based on their location and climate. Knowing your own location and climate can help achieve the best health for your plants. Unfortunately, more trees die each year due to improper pruning rather than pests or fungus. Remember a landscape plant, be it a tree, shrub rose, or perennial, if planted in the incorrect place, cannot be corrected by any amount of pruning. Always know the plant's natural size, shape, and form before planting it and its water and sunlight requirements.

There are four important reasons why to prune. They include the following:

  • Training the plant how and where you want it to grow
  • Keeping your plants healthy (protect against disease and insects)
  • Ensure the quality of flowers, flowering shrubs, and flowering and fruit-bearing trees
  • Maintain control over the growth of your plants

While there are general principles and guidelines for pruning plants, different types of plants will need to
be pruned in different ways. Knowing how to prune a specific type of plant ensures healthy growth and
longevity.

When?

In general, prune at the end of a woody plant's dormant season (March or April.) Avoid pruning young plants when just leafing out - their energy level and ability to fight off disease are reduced then.

Exceptions:

  1. If a plant flowers before June 1. You may want to prune after flowering to prevent flower loss. Many times, however, you can sacrifice some flowers if overall plant structure and size are desired. Pruning before foliage appears allows ease at seeing the bulk of the planning framework.
  2. Plants that have actively running sap (sometimes referred to as "bleeding") should be pruned in late fall or early winter.

How?

Be sure to always use the proper pruning tool for the plant's sake and your own health to prevent unneeded physical fatigue. Pruning can be enjoying healthy outdoor activity giving immediate self-satisfaction. Pruning tools should always be sharp.

  1. When removing a tree branch, cut as close to the next branch union or trunk as possible without cutting into the swollen "branch collar" at the union or base. This collar holds the resistance to infection.
  2. Trying not to leave stubs longer than ½" - these are unsightly and often prone to disease.
  3. If pruning to encourage density or fullness (referred to the "heading back"), prune the branch to ¼" to a ½" above a bud facing the direction you would like a new branch to go, usually outfacing.
  4. Would dressings be unnecessary and ineffective? Leave cuts to open air.

What?

  1. Remove and dead, diseased, injured, or weak growth.
  2. On most young trees (those with an upright leader), start at a height where you wish your branches to begin, try to choose and leave several branches at least 6" apart and well-spaced in a spiral around the trunk—select branches with strong, wide-angle crotches.
  3. Remove branches crisscrossing or growing in the wrong direction (as in toward the interior of the branch framework.)
  4. Retain, at least temporarily, some branches or young shoots along the trunk to protect against sunscald on the trunk and to provide leaves which produce energy for the growing tree.
  5. Rarely prune the upright leader of young trees, except to control excessive growth or stimulate side branches.
  6. "Head Back," by approximately ⅓, any side branches which are too vigorous or which you would like to become bushier.

While many different techniques are used to prune plant life, there are several principles to remember and take with you when you begin to prune your garden. Start by removing dead, diseased, or decayed areas. Do not let your plant become overcrowded because it does not allow for nutrients to reach all plant areas adequately. When pruning, make sure you are removing branches or stems crossing or growing in the wrong direction. By following these simple guidelines, you are well on creating a healthy and enjoyable landscape space.