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Pruning shrubs & trees
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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.
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
|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. 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
- 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