Keep Your Garden in Tip Top Shape With Timely Pruning

Now that it’s spring, time to clean up the yard and help it recover from the ravages of last winter.  For many trees and shrubs, it’s time to prune.  Pruning is one of the garden chores that can make people anxious and unsure. It’s hard to cut living branches that appear to be doing well on shrubs and trees. Nip and tuck pruning is what can help keep shrubs and trees healthy and in shape.  A little trimming here and there can help to prevent structural flaws, improve appearance, and help repair broken or damaged branches.

Young trees benefit from pruning to prevent structural flaws from occurring. When co-dominant leaders (two trunks instead of one) exist it can cause problems as the trees mature. Appearance is another reason to prune. Good pruning just maintains the tree’s natural shape. If the goal is to maintain a certain height of a tree or shrub a good pruning can help to maintain the general form, but at a shorter height. If the pruning is poorly done, it can look like a topped Christmas tree.

Determine what pruning needs to be done by inventorying the general health of the trees and shrubs. Are there any with broken or damaged branches? Are branches rubbing together causing the bark to fall off? Suckers and water sprouts from trees should be removed. Suckers are small stems that come from the base of the tree. Sprouts are thin and grow vertically from a larger branch. When thinning a tree or shrub the entire branch or stem is cut out. Look for the branch collar, at the base of the branch where there is a bulge. Make the cut outside the collar, but not flush with the trunk. Heading back involves cutting the terminal section of the branch back to the stem or the bud. When you want to control excessive shoots or reduce height you head back the tree by making cuts in the stem at 45-degree angles about a quarter inch above a bud. Heading back is only best for small branches.

The timing of pruning is specific to each shrub and tree.  Pruning at the wrong time can eliminate blooms for the season or over-stress the plant.  The exception to this is dead or diseased branches – remove them whenever you notice them, to prevent further problems with your tree or bush.

If you have questions about the right time to give some trimming to your bushes, hedges, or trees, consult your local county extension service – they’re a wealth of information regarding plant care in this particular area. For more specific pruning tips, see some of our earlier posts: