Many people are unaware that pruning is a science – and a fairly precise one at that. It’s not just about snipping off ‘extra’ parts of a tree or shrub or the physical appearance. It’s also about maintaining the health of the plant, influencing flowering and fruiting, and rejuvenating older trees and shrubs, among other things.
The Right Way to Prune
Never prune a branch flush with the trunk. This affects the plant in many ways. First, it can damage the trunk when your cutting tools rub against it. Second, you will be removing the branch bark ridge, or the swollen part at the inner base of the branch, as well as the branch collar at the outer base of the branch – this removes trunk wood and may leave the plant open to disease and decay. For this reason, pruning must only be done slightly away from the base of the branch; the ‘wound’ will quickly seal and form a boundary to prevent infection from spreading to the trunk.
The Benefits of Regular Pruning
There are several objectives you can achieve through regular pruning:
Health: The three Ds – diseased, decayed and dead – are parts of a plant that are typically pruned away. This keeps the tree or shrub healthy and growing.
Size and safety: The size of a plant can be controlled by pruning, ensuring safety by removing parts that are sticking out onto pathways where someone could injure themselves.
Training: Unfortunately, plants can’t be trained to fetch! However, they can be trained to grow a particular way. Art forms like bonsai, espalier and topiary use this technique to literally ‘teach’ young plants how to grow into a particular shape.
Flowering and Fruiting: You can achieve these desirable elements of a garden more effectively through pruning than any other artificial method. Selective pruning is used to grow larger (albeit fewer) fruit, and can be used on buds to encourage profuse growth.
Rejuvenation: Pruning can restore vigor of growth in older plants, and make them more attractive. As plants mature, their appearance has an uncanny resemblance to human aging symptoms – drooping posture, wrinkled skin (bark), etc. Pruning can take years off a plant, similar to how anti-aging methods help us.
The Right Tools
Hand pruners are used for branches up to 0.75 inches thick, and come in two basic types – the anvil, which is a sharp blade that comes to rest against a flat base plate, or the bypass, which basically works like a pair of curved scissors. Lopping shears are for branches up to 1.75 inches and have longer handles for better reach and leverage. They’re also ideal for heavy-duty or prolonged jobs. Pruning saws are typically used for clean cuts on hard-to-reach branches, and can either have fine or coarse teeth depending on the thickness of the branch; these are typically used for branches over 3 inches in diameter, as are chain saws. Pole pruners are another useful tool that is handy where using a ladder isn’t practical; they can cut up to about 2 inches of branch, and can have a reach of more than 12 feet.
Using the right techniques, understanding the process, and getting the right tools are the essentials of pruning. A well-pruned garden is a sight for sore eyes during the day and is a stunning visual display at night when your landscape lighting is turned on. Special lighting can really enhance the look of your pruning efforts, and it is highly recommended you use high-efficiency lighting to save on light bills.
Once your garden is ready, you will be proud to have people come over and admire your handiwork.