Pruning is simply a horticultural procedures to enhance the healthiness, cultural quality, and value, of your landscape plants within your home or business’s landscape. Usually, a landscape plant is intended to occupy a particular space within the landscape, so pruning is often required to also managed the landscape plant within it’s space allowance. Most landscape owners do not manage simple pruning procedures during the early development periods of a plants growth. This is many times the most critical time to manage a tree or shrub’s proper development, shape, and space within your landscape.
In most cases, trees, shrubs, and ground-covers are simply not pruned enough. It’s important to not focus on the landscape plant’s intended growth size as a beginning point to manage pruning, but to keep in mind the need for controlled growth patterns, matched sizes and proportions within tree or shrub groupings starting the first year after their planting.
General Pruning Procedures:
A general rule and reason for pruning that covers every category of tree, shrub, groundcover, perennial, and annual is to prune out, remove and eliminate all diseased or dead branching that would deteriorate the overall health of the plant. When removing such diseased or dead branching, always prune out back to healthy live branching fully removing the weak, diseased, or dying plant areas.
Another important pruning rule is the need for cleanliness during your pruning procedures. Always attempt to remove and discard all excess material derived from pruning. Leaving pruning debris or clippings from your plants will help to minimize landscape pest from developing with emphasis of diseases which many times reoccur year to year from disease spores and fungi that remain on the foliage.
Utilizing quality, clean, and sharpened pruning tools is also very important to not only make your pruning more enjoyable and easier, but also to improve the quality of your pruning cuts which minimizes disease, pest invasion, and unwanted stress to the plant caused by frayed pruning cuts. Always store pruning equipment in dry areas to avoid rust. Oiling and sharpening tools will make your pruning procedures an enjoyable gardening tasks.
The last general recommendation that I will make is the type of pruning being performed. Generally, there are two types of pruning procedures commonly performed being hand pruning using smaller hand pruning shears to make individual singular cuts to a landscape plant’s growth and structure as well as larger shear pruning using larger manual or power shears that make multiple cuts to a shrub’s growth and structure. Though larger shear pruning is common and offers a faster method of pruning, we recommend that you save this for only the areas where hand pruning isn’t practical such as larger hedges or shrub groupings. Anytime that you can set down the shears and utilize the slower more selective hand pruning technique, you’ll highly increase the quality of your pruning as well as improve the short, and long term appearance as well as longevity of the plants within your landscape. With hand pruning shears, you not only minimize heavy build up of pruning cuts in one area, but you also can manage better thinning of branching structure and over crowding with the shrub you’re pruning.
There are many opinions and pruning procedures outlined by a wide range or horticultural specialists. The suggested pruning procedures that are listed below are a general guide to help you better understand various pruning techniques and timing. We hope you find these useful in further understanding how to better manage your landscape plants and prune your way to an improved and more valuable landscape. If in anytime you find yourself unclear about how to manage any particular area of pruning within your landscape, please don’t hesitate to contact Evergreen of Johnson City and allow one of it’s gardening specialists to assist you in better understanding your pruning needs.
Most broadleaf evergreens covering many forms of Holly, Yew, Junipers, Cypress, Arborvitae, Nandina, Boxwood, etc. are included in one of the largest categories of landscape plant material that offer one of the most versatile ranges of pruning times. With spring being one of the largest growing seasons, it’s always important to enter this season with a well pruned and maintained shrub. By entering the spring with a well pruned plant, you utilize the power of spring growth to shape up and correct any plant shape or growth problems.
If managed pruning is being performed on a regular basis, it would be rare for a landscape plant to enter the spring season with large pruning needs. If aggressive pruning is needed in early spring, avoid performing heavy rejuvenation pruning, meaning pruning back 30% or more, too early. Wait until all winter conditions are final usually being in late March to Mid April.
Most broadleaf evergreens, such as Holly, Euonymus, Boxwood, Nandina, etc., tolerate shear pruning, however, we always recommend correcting and thinning out the exterior area after shearing utilizing hand pruners. This will allow you to remove any blunt or heavy branch crotches that’s often caused by shear pruning.
Many varieties of coniferous evergreens such as Juniper, Cypress, Arborvitae, etc. do not tolerate shear pruning well. Though it takes more time to prune with hand pruners, you’ll clearly improve the longevity, health, and quality of the conifers you maintain. This is probably one of the most misunderstood areas of pruning.
A popular category of shrub is the Nandina family. With it’s many cultivars of dwarf Nandina along with the larger standard Nandina variety, pruning is a must. Nandina react very well to mild and aggressive pruning, so don’t be reluctant with your pruning needs. With the common Dwarf Purple Nandina, I suggest heavy pruning in March to very early April, by heading back it’s structure anywhere from 20%-60%. We find aggressive pruning back to 50% -60% is many times needed. On the larger Nandina varieties, also heady back by appx. 30% and prune back 3-4 year old canes down to ground level encouraging new growth shoots from the base promoting a thicker branch and foliage structure.
Often, we get calls asking when I can pruning my Holly or other variety of broadleaf evergreen. The most practical way to answer this is almost anytime. If you are pruning on a regular basis, you’ll find that pruning on this category of shrub can be performed on a regular basis. Heavy rejuvenation is recommended in early to mid spring and you should always try to enter each of the two main growing seasons, being spring and fall, with a well managed plant.
This category of shrub sometimes causes much confusion about the proper timing of various flowering shrubs within the landscape. Though below, I will discuss pruning technique on a popular category of shrubs being Azaleas & Rhododendron, a general rule of thumb on all flowering shrubs is the following:
Spring Flowering Shrubs:
Prune spring flowering shrubs immediately or shortly after their flowering period if finished. Since spring flowering shrubs often bloom only on old or previous year’s wood and bud development, summer or fall pruning will often minimize the volume and quality of their flowering capability.
Summer Flowering Shrubs:
Prune summer flowering shrubs in last fall or early spring before their spring growth develops. Since most summer flowering shrubs often bloom on new wood and growth development, pruning back and selectively removing older wood or canes will encourage aggressive new growth in spring promoting strong summer flowering.
Within many deciduous shrub varieties, it’s common for branches to root inadvertently when making contact to the soil surface and others have stolen type root systems that cause unwanted spreading growth sprouts. Pruning out and managing such types of growth are also needed to ensure that your shrub doesn’t get out of hand and require more space than you garden or landscape has allowed it room for.
Again, as mentioned above, many flowering shrubs prefer to be occasionally thinned having their older 2, 3, or 4 year old canes totally removed down to the base of the plant. This serves as a thinning procedure to minimize overcrowding of the shrub’s inner branch structure, but also encourages new shoot development from the base keeping a thicker lower plant structure commonly a challenge with many varieties of deciduous shrubs.
One of the most popular categories of flowering shrubs, these flowering broadleaf evergreens set their buds for spring flowering each fall, so late summer or fall pruning will reduce or eliminate flowering on this category of shrub. We suggest that you manage the majority of pruning on Azaleas and Rhododendron very soon after spring flowering. This allows full development of further stem and foliage growth to prepare for bud set the upcoming fall.
Also, it’s important to remember that any rejuvenation and heavy pruning needs to be performed as early after flowering as possible. All severe rejuvenation can be performed earlier in the spring if you don’t mind loosing most or all of the flowering for spring. This often helps to allow more time for redevelopment of the shrub being more severely pruned.
Azaleas and Rhododendron are often thought to be more sensitive and difficult to prune or to know where to actually prune. Many times Azaleas will expose longer woody growth along the stems below the outer foliage. When this area is pruned into, new growth shoots and branches will develop on the woody stems below each of the cuts, so don’t hesitate to cut back into this woodier branching. Selective and lighter pruning can be managed during the summer months up to the time that bud set begins to develop, but be selective during the summer season managing the majority of your pruning during the period directly after flowering.
If pruned on a regular or yearly basis, Rhododendron pruning can be minimized to the area within the upper areas just below the tip foliage where green stems or branching are still existent. Though Rhododendron will tolerate heavier pruning back into the deeper or woodier structure, the father you prune back into the previous year’s growth, the longer it takes for new growth buds to develop along the woody areas below each cut. This is one of the reasons that yearly pruning should be maintained whenever possible.
It’s also a common practice for the soft tender new growth shoots to be hand pinched or pruned during their early emergence to promote a similar suppression of growth deeper within the shrub’s structure. Again, do this as early as possible in late spring after flowering has occurred and ample time for new branch development will be allowed.
Remember to always clean up pruning debris on Azaleas and Rhododendron as explained in the general pruning topics above to minimize diseases that are often associated with this category of shrub.
This category of landscape plants often include both coniferous and broadleaf evergreens such as Holly, Juniper, Hemlock, Cypress, Arborvitae, etc. Often these types of evergreen trees are used in areas where their intended size within the landscape has to be maintained to ensure their longevity. Depending on the variety, some evergreen trees often referenced as upright evergreens, will grow quick enough to require 2-3 pruning procedures each year.
Again, as outlined in the segment above on “Broadleaf & Coniferous Evergreen’s” it’s important to remember to enter each of the main growing seasons of spring and fall with a well maintained shape. Any corrective pruning whether controlling overall size, shape, or problematic branching, should be performed prior to each of the main growth seasons of spring and fall. This allows the power and strength of these powerful growth seasons to thicken up and shape your landscape plants to best suit your landscape’s needs.
Particular pruning procedures, whether performed by selective hand pruning or area shear pruning, the same guidelines that were discussed above apply to various forms of broadleaf evergreens and coniferous evergreens. It’s important to remember that selective pruning, though more time consuming, is the best and healthiest way to manage your landscape plants. Often shearing is more practical on larger pyramidal shaped trees. Just remember to follow up this type of pruning with some selective hand pruning along the exterior area of the evergreen sheared to eliminate heavy congestion of branch tips in one particular area and thin the overall exterior to provide more even growth distribution throughout the evergreen.
Some coniferous evergreen trees such as Spruce and Pines often are used to develop larger accent and sizes in open lawn spaces. Many times, size isn’t as much of an issue in these cases and the reason for pruning is often to manage slight shape modifications or to provide a thicker growth pattern with the evergreen’s exterior appearance.
The same general rule applies, but there’s more emphasis of one main pruning to be performed each spring prior to spring new growth occurrence. Lighter selective tipping back can be performed as well as larger selective branch reduction to manage corrective shape pruning or thickening. On evergreens in the pine family, the initial new growth state is began with the emergence of candle like projections from the branch tips. These candles emergent and lengthen prior to the emergence of the actual pine needles. It’s best to manage the majority of the pruning prior to this stage. Also, shearing of the candle growth is also commonly practiced prior to the emergence of the actual needs on the candles as to not permanently damage and brown the tips of the needle production.
Deciduous trees fall into a very similar category as to deciduous shrubs and include a wide range of characteristics that we will not attempt to detail within this general description. Many of same prune principles apply with timing and exceptions to various varieties, such as Dogwoods that set flower buds for spring in the fall season, require adjustment to when they should be pruned to not alter their ornamental features.
Corrective pruning to manage a properly spaced branching structure within the tree is probably one of the most important factors that we will stress in this topic. Managing properly spaced branching patterns will increase not only the overall beauty of the tree, but also it’s health and quality to ensure longevity within your landscape. It’s often necessary to determine where branching should be and where it shouldn’t. Often deciduous trees will sucker trunks sprouts in lower areas of the trunk or at the trunk’s base. If left along, the overall appearance of the tree would be drastically altered.
Again, keeping regular pruning needs managed on a timely basis will ensure that you don’t ever have to tackle large pruning tasks left unattended for multiple years. Keep in mind the same principle explained above under “Deciduous & Evergreen Flowering Shrubs” when it comes to determining the time to prune. With regards to flowering deciduous trees, spring flowering trees are to be pruned at different times than summer flowering trees.
One last final suggestion when discussing pruning procedures on deciduous & evergreen trees, when removing small or large branches from trees, do not attempt to prune back this branch flush off of it’s supporting branch or trunk. A circular area of cambium cells are contained in what’s referenced as the branch collar which aids in the fast healing after pruning is performed. Prune off all branches just beyond this collar which also leaves a smaller wound area for quicker healing.
This would include a category of plants that often pruning techniques are not commonly discussed. With pruning procedures covering a wide range of branch or foliage elimination, it’s still common to have the need to prune various annuals and perennials to manage thicker habits of growth & structure, dead heading old flowers, removal of dead or diseased segments of the plant, etc.
Many aggressive annuals such as Begonias, Impatiens, and Coleus, often benefit from selective pinch pruning or heavy cutting back or size reduction multiple times throughout the growing season. Often gardeners are hesitant to perform drastic pruning on annuals, but after they have practiced such procedures on their flowering annuals, they see the benefits they receive from seasonal pruning or pinching.
The reference of tip pruning can be performed by fingers or with smaller hand pruners and often includes tipping back 1-3 inches of the tip growth of the flowering annual. Often this will include flowers as well, so don’t be worried about this. Heavier pruning procedures that may require the size reduction of flowering annual plants or masses can be performed with hand pruners or actually even hand shears if larger annual groups are present. Heavy pruning will look more drastic, but the nearly immediate resurgence of new growth and flowers will prove the benefits of such heavier pruning.
When referring to perennials, typical clean up pruning procedures to include the removal of dead foliage, dormant foliage, and old flower removal is much of the tasks. Division of perennial root stocks covers a segment different from that of annual flowers that often isn’t commonly referred to as pruning. Like pruning, division of root systems is simply another way to manage the placement and space provided to a plant within the landscape.