Thursday, October 30, 2008

Pruning the easy way to a beautiful garden

Pruning is not a chore but one’s expression of living art. There are many reasons to prune plants. From a grower’s perspective, we prune plants to train them to have full, well branched structures. Generally shrubs should be pruned every 6-8” and trees are pruned every 12-15”. The result on the one hand will be a plant that has strong branches able to better withstand heavy snow and ice during the winter time. On the other hand, a well pruned plant creates a work of beauty during the rest of the year. Characteristics such as flower color, size, fragrance, leaf color during the season, or even fall color will all be enhanced with proper pruning. The end result will allow us to sell a plant that will perform brilliantly for years to come. From a homeowners perspective, we prune plants to keep them from getting out of shape, growing too tall, too wide or more simply put, so they don’t cover up the windows, grow over the walkway, or up against the house. Now whether you are a professional or a weekend gardener, pruning a plant should have the same results.

We need to get to know our plants and understand their strengths and weaknesses. For a plant that means we need to understand where do they grow best and under what type of growing conditions? Where will they provide the best effect, whether that is complementing the architectural details of the home or providing screening between adjacent properties? So before we take on how to prune plants, let’s make sure they are a good fit to the yard. Learn the maintainable size of the tree or shrub so you can place it in the best location. The bottom line is the proper plant for the proper location will allow us to grow the plant as it would naturally. Learning how to prune plants so that we maintain them in an area that is too small for them to grow can truly dampen out spirits as a gardener. So in the end, right plant right location becomes a thing of beauty…living art.

The first principle
of pruning is to cut back to another branch or bud where there is healthy wood. When we clip the top off a branch the energy will flow to the bud or branch just below the cut. The result will be buds breaking open and producing new shoots. Most times after the plant is pruned we see it grow furiously. Over the years when trimming is done to the outer portion of the plant the canopy becomes very dense. As sun light is restricted from getting to the interior of the plant the inside branches die out. The second principle of pruning I call "thinning-out". This is the most important part of pruning that most people do not do. And without this step our plants grow out of shape having you ask 'Is it still salvageable"? By thinning, we reopen up the dense canopy by taking out sections to allow sun to get to the center again. Evergreens such as Yews are prime examples of a plant most of you would say looks great on the outside yet dead on the inside. If we were to thin the plant, we allow the shape to remain and allow sun into the center. The buds in the center will break open and develop branches that will begin to grow through our openings towards the sun. The result is a more open plant that does not stimulate excessive new growth. A lot of growth can be removed without changing the plants natural appearance. Yews, Hollies, Junipers are Evergreen Shrubs that can be maintained for years at a desired height and spread by thinning-out. Viburnum, Euonymus, Weigela, Dogwood, and Barberry are some common Deciduous Shrubs that will also benefit from this technique. This method of pruning is best done with hand pruners, not hedge shears.

When To Prune: The best time to prune most flowering shrubs is just after they flower. Deciduous Shrubs such as Forsythia, Viburnum, Lilac, and some Hydrangeas (macrophylla varieties) produce the following year’s flower buds just after their current years flowers cycle. So if we prune a Lilac in the fall because it is overgrown from several years of neglect, though we will put the plant back into shape, we will also loose the following year’s flowers. It would be best to loose some flowers and have a better maintained shrub. Evergreens Shrubs such as Yews, Junipers, Holly, Spruce and Fir can be pruned late winter or early spring before new growth starts. All evergreens in the Pine family would be pruned late spring after they flush their new growth. Most of the evergreen shrubs continue to grow during the summer season. Broadleaf Evergreens such as Rhododendrons and Azaleas should be pruned after they flower in late spring. Thinning out as previously described with a hand pruner is best. Old flower clusters can be pruned or pinched off to prevent seed formation and to encourage new growth and flower buds.

Though this is a lengthy blog, save it as a general guideline to help keep you in tough with your plants. Or better yet, see you at my next class .

There is nothing like a little hands on... time in the garden... Larry

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