Pruning Shrubs and Bushes

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Pruning Shrubs and Bushes

Pruning Shrubs and BushesPruning Shrubs and Bushes

Shaping your shrubbery

Whether your goal is to preserve a natural look or to create a compact shape or simply to promote plant health, pruning shrubs and bushes is a must. Pruning shrubs and bushes regularly maintain the health of your plants and stimulate and direct growth.

Depending on the variety of plant you have, weather exposure, soil type, and desired result, each individual shrub or bush has its own unique pruning needs. And no matter what kind of plant it is, a properly pruned shrub or bush is a work of art and should not look like it’s been pruned.

Desired form

To preserve the natural look, the desired form for many ornamental shrubs and bushes is a vase shape. Four to seven strong, well-placed branches, or leaders, form a framework which will hold future growth. Smaller bushes and shrubs should be pruned to a central leader. The early shaping of trees, bushes, and shrubs is extremely important to develop a strong, balanced framework.

Art and Science

pruning treepruning tree

The art of pruning seeks to create the desired form over the course of several seasons. Some shrubs and bushes are pruned for ornamental value and others for fruit and berry production.

The science of pruning shrubs and buses requires knowledge of growth habits, plant types, flowering or fruiting characteristics, and mastering a few basic techniques.

Basic Techniques

Pruning maintains plant health by removing dead, diseased, or damaged wood. Good tools with razor sharp edges must be used. A ragged cut will not heal, leaving the plant susceptible to rot and disease. For the same reason, cuts must be made at correct locations. Here are some basic pruning techniques for trees, bushes, and shrubs:

  • Heading: Any cut made to a small branch must be made just above the bud. This heading back influences the form of the plant by directing growth from the bud and stimulating growth below the cut.
  • Thinning: To thin out a shrub or bush, a branch or twig is cut off either at its point of origin from the parent stem, from a lateral side branch, or at ground level. Thin oldest and tallest stems first to allow growth of vigorous side branches. This method of pruning results in a more open plant and does not stimulate excessive new top growth. Considerable growth can be cut out without changing the plant’s natural appearance.
  • Gradual renewal: In gradual renewal pruning, a few of the tallest or oldest branches are removed at or slightly above ground level annually. Some thinning may be necessary to shorten long branches or to maintain a symmetrical shape.
  • Rejuvenate: To rejuvenate an old, overgrown shrub, one-third of the tallest, oldest branches can be removed at or slightly above ground level before new growth starts.

When to Prune

When spring is just around the corner, but it’s still too early to work in your garden, it’s time to prune. Many trees, shrub, and bushes will benefit from an annual pruning during their dormancy (late winter to early spring), although there are some exceptions.

Early spring bloomers set their flower buds the fall before. Pruning them too early in the spring would mean losing some blossoms. Pruning should be timed to minimize disruption of the blooming. Maples will “bleed” excessively if cut in early spring and are best pruned in fall. Evergreen bushes and shrubs should be pruned shortly after the full development of the new season’s growth.

To Prune or Not to Prune

There are no hard and fast rules. There are simply more optimum times to prune. If you find it easier to prune when you can see the shape of the plant, before the branches have leaves, go for it. Trees and shrubs that are in need of shaping can sacrifice a few blooms to be invigorated by a good spring pruning. Some pruning is better than no pruning!

Fast Growing Trees


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