Pruning your trees and shrubs is one of the easier things you can do to help keep them healthy and aesthetically pleasing. But knowing when, where, how and with what tools is a whole other ball game. So let’s talk about this, shall we?
WHEN TO PRUNE
Unfortunately, pruning is not a simple, one-size-fits-all procedure. Like people needing surgery, every tree and shrub are all different. Some plants and shrubs like to be pruned in late winter, and others prefer the spring. Some prefer a nice haircut in the dead heat of summer, while others prefer the cooler temperatures of autumn. Now here’s the real kicker… Not just knowing the name of the tree or shrub you have is always enough. Sometimes you need to know what type of bloomer it is (if a bloomer at all).
Let’s take hydrangea for example. There are ultimately two types of hydrangeas, ones that bloom on old wood and ones that bloom on new wood. If you have an old wood hydrangea then you don’t want to be pruning them annually at all. As a matter of fact, you may only want to prune them every couple of years just to help reshape them. Not much more than that. These are hydrangeas that will produce blooms on last summer’s growth so if you prune them…say goodbye to any potential blooms this year. Old wood bloomers include Mophead, Big Leaf, and Lacecap hydrangeas.
New wood bloomers are plants that bloom on the current seasons new growth so pruning annually is highly recommended. For hydrangeas, the PeeGee and Annabelle species are both new wood blooming plants that you can quite literally mow down every fall and they will pop right up back in the spring and still bloom!
I chose hydrangeas as the example because there is one species of hydrangea that is called the “Endless” species… These guys actually bloom on both new and old wood simultaneously so pruning this guy is a little different. You’ll want to deadhead the first set of blooms that appear in spring. This will encourage the next set of blooms that are forthcoming in the summer. Then prune it again in the fall. Do not mow down the shrub, instead, just give it a light pruning to control the height and shape. That’s it.
The moral of the story is… One plant = Three different methods of pruning. Depending on the specific species of hydrangea it is of course! To ensure a beautiful blooming garden… You have to know what species of plants you have growing so that you’ll know when the right time to prune is.
WHERE TO PRUNE
Again, knowing your plants is a key factor here. Where you prune can also affect the health and blooms of your plant. Do you just deadhead your plant? Should you cut off 1/3 or 2/5 of the limb? Can you cut at a 90 degree angle? What about the limbs that cross over each other? Some plants, like roses, for example, like to be deadheaded regularly throughout the season to help encourage new blooms. Otherwise, you should only prune to control the height and shape.
A weigela shrub likes to be pruned in late summer right after it blooms die off and you want to cut about 2/5th inward of where each bloom was. This prevents you from cutting off next year’s blooms as weigela blooms on old wood. Weiglas also like to breathe, so if you find any limbs that are crossing over, cut off the smaller, weaker looking limb. Now, not all plants mind if they have crossing limbs, but some do! So again, it’s crucial to know your plant before attempting to prune it.
HOW TO PRUNE
Always be sure when you are cutting a limb of a tree or shrub that you cut at a 45 degree angle and never cut flush with the trunk/stem. Always leave 1/4-1/2″ depending on the size of the trunk/stem. Cutting bigger limbs should always be done in sections so that you don’t tear or score the bark which leaves the tree/shrub vulnerable to disease.
Another important step is to always be sure to wipe down your tools with some rubbing alcohol in between each species of plant. Not cleaning your tools properly is a fantastic way to transfer disease from one plant to another. You wouldn’t want your surgeon using the same scalpel on you that he just used on his last patient would you? Certainly not without disinfecting it first. The same applies to plants. Always, always clean your tools and keep them sharp!
WHAT TOOLS TO USE?
When you prune your trees or shrubs there are a few tools you want to use, and some you don’t. Taking the proper time and care to prune is just as important as using the right tools!
Loppers, Shears & Clips
The three must haves for any pruning job. What you don’t want for a pruning job is a chainsaw or a motorized hedge trimmer. Sure they make the job go much quicker, but they can also make your pruning look like a serious hack job! Take the time to do it right using the right tools!
Loppers are meant for bigger limbs usually from 1/2″ up to 2″ – if you have a limb that is larger than 2″ but smaller than 4″ then you’ll want to use a pruning saw. Anything over 4″ and that is when you’ll want to use a chainsaw.
Shears are long-nosed scissors and they are most often used when you are reshaping a shrub. Often used for formal shaping of hedges as well. Cedars, junipers and boxwoods all love getting a haircut by a pair of shears. Shearing your shrubs and hedges are really about cleaning them up for a manicured look. You shouldn’t cut anything thicker than 1/4″ with a pair of shears and just trying can damage your plant and leave it vulnerable to disease and insects that look for sick and dying material.
Clips are meant for cutting branches smaller than 1/2″ of stem or simply deadheading of flower blooms. They are a gardener’s best friend and should always be kept clean and sharp! Having several pairs on hand is always best (I’m always leaving mine behind at my clients lol). Make sure to keep them away from the elements when not in use to ensure they do not rust.
WHEN TO USE A MOTORIZED HEDGE TRIMMER
This is something I feel I should add on here. When should you use a motorized hedge trimmer? In my personal expert opinion, the only time you should ever be using a motorized trimmer on is a cedar hedge or a privet hedge that doesn’t require formal pruning. You should always trim your Boxwoods and other evergreens manually. But cedar and privet hedges are easy to trim with a motorized trimmer and then even if you went back over it all with a pair of shears afterwards to really trim it up nice. I would do just that because I am very OCD and have a problem with perfection lol. However, if formal trimming is not what you are going for, then you can certainly get away with trimming with a motorized trimmer and leave it at that so long as you are happy with the end results!