Pruning plants

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Some principles of pruning

Pruning has been defined as removal of part of a plant to improve it. There are some who will question the desirability of any kind of pruning, and I can agree with this if it is done without knowledge of the plant and without knowing what pruning is expected to accomplish. It must be done at the right time and in the -right manner. It is not a case of thinking, "This is a nice day. Let's get out and do some pruning." It is necessary to study the growth habits of the plants on which we are to operate and to know what we expect to accomplish.

Among the benefits which may accrue from pruning are the following. Faulty habits of growth can be corrected. It may be used to bring about earlier blooming. Flower and fruit size in many cases can be increased. It is an aid in controlling disease and insect pests. It makes it possible to rejuvenate old plants that are approaching senility.

Pruning plants
While all pruning should be done so that rapid healing will follow, there are two distinct ends which the process is designed to serve. One (a) is done in the expectation that growth will continue behind the line of cut. The second basic manoevre (b) presupposes that new growth (apart from covering bark) will not follow or be influenced by the cut. Note that the cut is made parallel to and close to the trunk. Any branches (c) too large for a shearing cut should be sawed, and any too heavy to hold should be sawed in three separate steps to avoid tearing: (1) from below until the saw binds; (2) from above, farther out, until the limb cracks; (3) then the remaining stub sawed close to the trunk.

Severe pruning during the time when a plant is dormant usually results in production of strong, leafy, vegetative shoots during the following growing season. Severe pruning should be avoided whenever possible because the vegetative growth induced may be so strong that no blossom buds are formed. Pruning when plants are growing may help them to produce flowering wood.

Severe pruning of the top when a plant is dormant may be disastrous in some cases because it stimulates strong shoot growth or water sprouts. These succulent shoots are attractive to aphids (presumably because their beaks are easily inserted in the soft tissue), which may carry the dreaded fire blight from a diseased tree to a healthy one. Among those that can be affected with fire blight are: Apple, Pear, Quince, and related plants such as Hawthorn, Pyracantha, Cotoneaster, and Mountain Ash. When pruning diseased plants it is advisable to disinfect the pruning shears by dipping them in Formalin or alcohol before each cut; otherwise you may be spreading the disease.

Plants which bloom on old wood cannot be pruned during the time they are dormant without removing potential flowers. This does not mean that it never should be done, although in general it is better to wait until the flowers have faded before doing any cutting.

Those which bloom on shoots made during the current season (Buddleia davidi, Vitex, Hybrid Tea, Hybrid Perpetual Roses, and others) can be cut back severely before growth starts in the spring.

Pruning to promote growth
Summer pruning
Pruning to promote growth or regulate form. Left above, dormant (pre-spring) pruning encourages extra-vigorous growth from remaining buds as shown in grey. While dormant pruning is usually done for this purpose, a secondary result is, obviously, altered shape or form of branch structure. Summer pruning, right above, done when plant is in active growth, tends to consolidate growth, to counteract too rapid or unbalanced growth, and results in a more compact plant the ensuing year.
Pruning in relation to flowering
Develop for flowers
Pruning in relation to flowering. If flower buds are removed, left above, before they open, flowers will, of course, be sacrificed for the ensuing flowering period. This holds true for spring or fall bloomers, once buds have developed. If, however, flowering wood is removed after bloom, right above, the usual tendency is for buds to develop for flowers, shown in grey, during following blooming season.

Root pruning is practiced to promote a more compact root system. In the case of trees it greatly increases the plant's ability to overcome successfully the shock of transplanting. It should be done about a year before the tree is to be moved. Root pruning may be done to promote fruitfulness. It is necessary at times to prevent trees from committing suicide, which occurs when, as sometimes happens, roots grow in such a way that they girdle the trunk and prevent free passage of water and nutrients.

Pruning can be done to correct faulty growth habits—as, for example, with the Sugar Maple, which, because its growth buds are opposite, may develop bad V-shaped crotches.

Pruning can also help control insect pests such as spruce gall aphid and white-pine shoot moth and white-pine weevil. These weevils can be fought by cutting off the infested shoots well below the injured part, and in the case of the gall aphids, the galls, which may remind you of a pineapple, should be cut off and burned before the insects leave the galls.

Pruning is not necessarily restricted to branches and roots. In some cases it is advisable to remove all faded flower clusters to prevent the formation of seeds which are a drain on the plant's energies. This is especially desirable on young plants of Lilac and Rhododendron. When the plants get older they increase in size and it becomes too much of a chore to remove all the faded clusters. Thinning fruit trees such as Apple, Pear, Peach, and Plum is advantageous. It prevents over-bearing and increases the size of the remaining fruits.

Although, ideally, pruning is done so that the natural habit of a tree or shrub is maintained, occasionally the reverse is true, as, for example, when compact hedges are required, or when individual specimens are trimmed to formal shape, and in topiary work.

When large wounds are made it is considered desirable to cover them with something to prevent the exposed wood from checking (cracking) and to keep out spores of disease-causing organisms. They should be checked at least once each year until the callus has completely covered the wound, and if necessary, the dressing should be renewed.

Tips on pruning techniques

  • Take good care of your tools. Good tools warrant good treatment. If they are really good, they will cost more and you are perhaps less likely to leave them outdoors overnight or in rain.
  • When using hand shears or lopping shears, do not try to cut anything that is beyond the capacity of the tool. You may be tempted to wriggle the shears, which will force the cutting blade out of alignment.
  • Place the cutting blade as close as possible to the branch from which the one you are cutting off originates.
  • Carry a sharpening hone with you so that you can keep the _cutting edges sharp.
  • When heading back a shoot always make the cut close to the bud or lateral that is pointing in the direction that you wish the shrub or tree to grow.
  • Do not prune when the wood is frozen. It is brittle then and there is danger of breaking off the branches you want to keep.
    Do not work when it is so cold that you are uncomfortable. You may be tempted to take short cuts and fail to give the leisurely attention that is needed when pruning.
  • Do not fail to unpack a shipment of trees and shrubs as soon as they are received. If the trees are bare-root ones and you are not ready to plant them right away, trim off any mangled or broken roots, heel them in, or cover them with wet Sphagnum Moss, sand, or sawdust until you are ready to plant them. It matters little what is used provided it can do the job of keeping the roots moist until they can be planted. Top growth also can be pruned at this time.
  • Balled and burlapped trees should be stood close together in a spot sheltered from wind and sun and watered daily. Trees have a better chance of survival if planting can proceed at once. Doubtless it is to your advantage also, since it avoids a second handling.