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Landenberg, Pennsylvania, United States
Based in Landenberg, PA PLG offers Landscape Installation and Maintenance to Southern Chester County and Northern Delaware

Sunday, March 6, 2011

LawnScapes' Basic Guide to Pruning

            In this edition of LawnScape’s Blog, I want to give you the basic techniques, methods, and things to look for when pruning shrubs, perennials, and trees in your landscape.  Pruning is a very important step in promoting healthy plant growth.  There are four main tools used in pruning, most of, many homeowners already possess.
1.     Pruning Shears:  These are used for pruning small shoots, small stems, and dead heading perennials and roses. 
2.     Lopping Shears (or Limb Loppers): These are used for larger stems and branches
3.     Pruning Saw:  This is used for large branches
4.     Hedge Shears: As the name suggests these are for trimming hedge rows composed of shrubs with small leaves.
As with any tool, these will only work as well as they are maintained.  Your pruning shears, lopping shears, and hedge shears should be kept sharp.  The sharper they are, the less damage a plant will incur during pruning.  You want all of your cuts to be clean and limit the tearing and ripping of bark. 
            When shortening branches, cut just above an outward facing bud or shoot.  Never cut straight across the limb.  Always make your cut diagonally, parallel to the angle of the bud or shoot.  If you tear the bark move down to the next bud or shoot and try again.  When removing entire branches cut flush with the trunk or the main branch as you can get it. DO NOT paint the wound with sealant paint as it prevents the tree’s natural healing process.  If you are extremely worried about disease infestation then use a latex based paint rather than an oil based paint.  Shrubs need to have their dead, straggly, and weak wood pruned every year.  The best time for pruning is late in the dormant season.  The reasons for this recommendation are:
1. Leaves wounds open for the shortest amount time before new growth starts to occur
2. Easier to make pruning decisions without leaves obscuring the tree or shrub’s branching structure.
Examine the shrubs and trees in your garden one a year in the early spring /late winter to determine their pruning needs.  Things to look for are:
1.     Any dead or damaged wood, remove these by cutting back to the next healthy, outward facing shoot or bud.
2.     Remove any shoots that are obviously weak, by cutting back to a main branch.
3.     Look for straggly branches and prune in half back to a strong shoot or bud that is facing outward.
4.     Be extremely careful not to remove healthy wood.

Pruning Shrubs that Bloom on Last Year’s Growth:
            Plants such as Beauty Bush, Deutzia, Forsythia, Hydrangeas, and Mock Oranges all bloom on last season’s growth. If the shrub has lost its shape and is too crowded then it should be pruned right after the blooms fade.  This technique creates a nice form and healthy growth for the next year.
Pruning Shrubs that Flower on New Growth:
            Plants such as: Butterfly Bushes, False Spirea, Blue Beard, and Japanese Spirea all bloom on new growth.  To restrict size and encourage fewer but larger blooms prune these types of shrubs in late winter or in spring when growth starts.  At the end of the season cut all of the growth back to 2-3 buds from the base.  Do not cut into the older wood unless you are trying to change the shape and growth habit of the plant.
Pruning Shrubs in Hedges:
            New growth should be cut back by ½ to 1/3 every year until the required height is reached.  The final height can be maintained by shearing the new growth almost to its base every year.  Use a string line between two stakes (make sure it’s level) to help guide your trimming.  Taper the sides of the hedge so the base is thicker.  Fast growing formal hedges should be trimmed at least two times a year, once in spring and once at the end of summer.  Informal hedges with flowering shrubs can be pruned after the flowering is completed.  If the shrubs in the hedge bloom on the current year’s growth then prune them in the spring.  Use hedge shears to clip small leaved shrubs, like boxwoods or hollies.  Pruning shears are better for larger leaved shrubs to prevent the leaves from being cut in half.  Power trimmers work best when used on young soft green shoots but may damage shrubs with thicker woodier stems.
Pruning for Trees:
            Pruning should start when the young tree is planted.  This is the time to remove only diseased, dead, or broken branches.  Begin training the young tree during its dormant season.  When pruning, prune to shape but do not cut the leader, remove crossing branches and branches that grow back toward the trunk, eliminate sucker growth from the roots, remove rubbing branches, and prune narrow crotches.  As the tree grows remove lower branches gradually to raise the crown.  Leave the pruning of large trees to professionals that possess the now-how and right equipment.  There are three main kinds of pruning done to large, mature trees:
1. Crown Thinning:  selectively removing branches for better light penetration and air circulation.
2. Crown Raising: removing lower branches for more clearance under the tree for sidewalks and lawns
3. Crown Reduction: Removing larger branches at the top of the crown in order to reduce the tree height.  When done right the tree does not look scalped. 
 Pruning Perennials:
            Pruning perennials can help to promote new blooms to bud in plants such as phlox and delphinium.  As soon as the spring and summer flowers fade remove them with your pruning shears.  Continue doing this into the fall.  Plants with a single flower stem, like the red hot poker, prune the flower stalk to ground level.  For perennials that have leaves on the lower part of the flower stems, cut the stems off right above the leaves.  Many plants such as Candy Tuft and Dianthus form a dense mat can benefit from a hard pruning.  Use hedge shears to cut back ½ to 1/3 of their height.  This practice promotes new growth and sometimes a second bloom can occur.

Thanks for taking the time to read, I hope you learned some useful information, and get out there and start pruning!

-Matt Bradley, BLA
Designer/Estimator  for LawnScapes

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