I love to prune trees and shrubs; now is the time to start. I worked this past weekend on a ginkgo at my daughter’s house that was out of control. It has two main trunks and lots of branches coming out of the second trunk.
Gardeners tend to be slightly fearful of pruning or cutting into trees and shrubs. For the most part, you won’t kill a plant through pruning, unless you use basal pruning (cut off at ground level). Even then, many plants try to resprout and regrow! So don’t be fearful. Just do it.
Understanding the basics of pruning is helpful in knowing what to do and increasing your confidence. I will spend the next few weeks discussing the basics and then some specific pruning techniques.
Pruning is both an art and a science. It’s important to help maintain woody plants. It’s also valuable in fruit and nut production; proper pruning leads to more fruit and quality fruits and nuts.
Pruning can be used to train or direct growth, rejuvenate an overgrown shrub, and increase light to the middle of a fruit tree. It can be used to clean up broken branches.
Any time you prune, you wound the plant. With proper pruning cuts, a plant compartmentalizes or seals off the wound. Improper cuts lead to wood decay and lack of structural integrity, particularly in trees.
Now is a good time to prune because you can easily see the structure of the woody plant before the leaves hide the branches. Let’s start by looking at the plant you are pruning.
First, remove any broken or dead branches. This is an easy place to begin pruning.
Next, look at branches that cross or rub each. Remove the branches that are growing into the middle of the plant and clogging up the center. Leave those that are outward growing.
Then look at the overall plant and determine your next steps. This depends on the type of plant you are pruning.
When pruning young ornamental trees, you want to establish and guide the structure of the mature tree. In most trees, you want a strong central leader or dominant upright branch. You don’t want co-leaders or two upright branches competing.
When you have co-dominant leaders, eventually you have narrow crotch angles and a better potential for broken branches due to wind, snow, or ice.
In this case, remove one of the leaders to have a single leader take over. Eventually, the tree gets large enough that you must hire a professional to prune high up in the tree. However, if you start pruning when they are small, you can help minimize future problems.
When it comes to fruit trees, there are specific recommendations for pruning. For the most part, you want to look at opening the center of the plant to allow good air circulation and sunshine penetration.
In dwarf fruit trees, you want to terminate the central leader at a certain height to keep the plant dwarf and manageable.
There are plenty of good University-based websites that provide information on pruning along with drawings of where to make cuts.
Next week: How to make good pruning cuts.
Pamela Corle-Bennett is the state master gardener volunteer coordinator and horticulture educator for Ohio State University Extension. Contact her by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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