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Spring and Summer Plant Pruning


Pruning is essential for attractive, healthy trees and shrubs and improves the quality of flowers, fruit and foliage. The best way to avoid difficult pruning jobs is to plan ahead; select plants that will fit available space after the plants have matured to their maximum size. But sometimes the prunning job just has to be done.

Why Prune At All?

  • Pruning to Thin Out--thinning a shrub involves the removal of entire branches at their junction with another branch or the trunk. This opens the plant to sunlight and air, encouraging growth from the the center of the shrub, while reducing the shrub's overall size. Most plants respond best to selective pruning. This is healthier for the plant and gives a more natural appearance.
  • Training--some pruning may be necessary at the time of planting to shape your tree or shrub. Remove broken and crossed branches, but avoid excessive pruning when you are transplanting, as it tends to retard plant growth and inhibit survival.
  • Keeping them healthy--pruning is vital for removing dead, dying, or diseased wood. Any dying branch or stub can be an entry point or buildup chamber for insects or diseases that can readily spread to other parts of the plant.
  • Improving flowers and fruit--pruning reduces the amount of old wood in trees and shrubs and thus diverts energy into the production of larger although possibly fewer, flowers and/or fruit. Properly timed pruning will improve the quality of fruit, foliage and stems.  

When Should I Prune?

Most pruning is done in late winter or early spring to give maximum time for the wounds to heal. However, there are many exceptions. Spring-blooming shrubs should be pruned after flowering, but those that bloom in the summer or fall should be pruned in winter.

Use renewal pruning on multiple-stemmed plans like forsythia. Young growth produces more-vigorous flowers, so each spring after flowering, remove 1/3 of the oldest and tallest stems near ground level to encourage development of new stems.

Some shrubs such as roses are reduced in size by pruning individual branches. Trees such as elm, maple, birch, dogwood and walnut bleed freely if pruned in late winter, so prune them in early summer. Remove dead or diseased wood whenever necessary.

Cut branches that are the size of your thumb or smaller with a hand pruner. Slant the cut to promote healing and to prevent the collection of water on the cut. Remove branches over 1 inch in diameter with a pruning saw or lopper. Use the three-cut method (see illustration below) to prevent bark from tearing. Any shearing may be done with hedge shears.

Finally, be sure to keep your tools sharp to make your work easier and to make smooth, even cuts. Sharpening tools is a wonderful thing to do while dreaming about spring blooms.

Three-cut PruningThe three-cut pruning method helps prevent the bark on large branches from tearing.

--Reprinted from Conservation Currents, a newsletter of the Northern Virginia Soil and Water Conservation District

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