You can influence the way plants grow through pruning, which will also increase their production and ensure they look their best. Knowing when and where to prune, and which technique to use, will help your plants to flourish.
Pruning plants worries some gardeners, but armed with the right tools and a little knowledge, you can improve the look and vigor of your plants without harming them.
Hard pruning results in more vigorous growth further down the plant. At the end of each shoot is a terminal bud that is stronger than those along the sides, which grow to form side shoots. Cutting off the terminal bud directs the plant’s energy to the side buds, resulting in a bushier, fuller plant.
There are many reasons why you might need to prune plants in this way. Left to their own devices, some plants become an messy tangle of overgrown branches, promoting conditions ripe for pests and diseases. Overgrown plants also tend to be less vigorous, resulting in a poorer display of flowers or the production of fewer fruit.
Pruning helps to maintain an attractive shape and prevents plants from suffocating compact neighbors, especially in small gardens where space is at a premium. Many beautiful effects can be achieved by careful pruning. Cutting some plants back hard will result in foliage that is larger and brighter than mature leaves, while cutting back the shoots of plants grown for winter stem color encourages a flush of bright new shoots. Regular pruning to remove diseased or damaged material also keeps plants in good health. Pruning needs depend on the type of plant, and for some, a light trim is all that is necessary to maintain a good display.
When to Prune
The timing of pruning is important: if you prune at the wrong time, you
might remove flower buds or leave plants vulnerable to damage by frost. A
good rule of thumb for any shrub or climber is to prune lightly shortly
after flowering as the blooms start to fade—an exception is forsythia,
which can be pruned hard to control its size. If the plant flowers after
the summer solstice, you can usually prune back hard in spring. Of
course, there are exceptions to this rule (such as mophead and lacecap
hydrangeas, which have their flowerheads left in place through winter
and are then pruned lightly in spring), so research specific plants.
Evergreen shrubs are usually pruned between late spring and fall. Soft
growth is vulnerable to frost, so prune to allow plenty of time for
regrowth to toughen up before cold weather arrives.
You will need pruning tools to make a clean cut to woody or thick branches, but soft and sappy growth can be pruned by hand. Pinch off this growth with your thumb and forefinger to encourage a bushy plant.
Different tools are needed for different jobs. Choose pruners for the accurate pruning of stems up to 1/2 inch (1.5 cm) in diameter and keep them sharp and clean. Handheld pruning saws are ideal for thicker branches. Telescopic loppers are used for cutting stems up to 1-inch (2.5 cm) thick, growing above head height. Handheld shears are best for topiary, while electric and gas-powered trimmers are useful for cutting most hedges.