Any plants need to be pruned to maintain plant health, promote growth, and to keep them looking tidy. Just as a regular hair cut keeps our hair healthy and looking good, pruning does the same thing for plants.
Let’s take a look at how and why we should prune different plants.
What Is Pruning?
Pruning is the selective removal of plant parts, including branches, buds, leaves, blooms, and roots. Pruning can involve the removal of living or dead plant parts that are above the soil or below the soil.
Both herbaceous (soft tissue) and woody (trees, shrubs) need to be pruned occasionally. Think of pruning as a haircut for plants.
Goals of Pruning
Proper pruning practices depend on many factors, including the type and health of the plant and the goal of the pruning. The goals of pruning differ and there’s no right or wrong way to achieve the goal. However, timing and cutting location will impact the result of the plant.
Some people want to create a living fence with small trees or shrubs, or espalier a fruit tree against an exterior wall, or remove the suckers from a tomato plant. In each of these scenarios, the pruning goal and method will be somewhat different depending on several factors.
The goal of pruning may be for aesthetic reasons, like growing a Bonsai tree, but the health of the plant is the number one goal.
Maintaining Plant Health
Regular pruning helps maintain plant health by reducing and/or eliminating the chances for disease and pest infestation or spread.
Dead plant parts are ideal places for pests and disease to hide and thrive. Dead branches provide food and shelter to harmful pests and diseases that could spread to living plant parts.
Overgrown plants hinder the circulation of air and block the light from reaching all the interior of the plant.
You can train Bonsai trees, grapevines, espalier trees, Ficus trees, and many other plants to grow in a certain shape, size, or pattern via pruning.
Indoor or outdoor plants can be trained to grow to your liking if you are willing to judiciously prune them at the right time. Once you’ve started the plant training, you will need regular pruning to keep the plant growing as desired.
Plants that are pruned will be healthier and produce large blooms and food. When you remove some of the unwanted branches, buds, leaves, blooms, or roots from a plant, the energy of the plant is concentrated into the remaining plant parts.
The branches that remain on the plant will grow stronger and sturdier; the removal of excess buds will allow the plant to use all its energy to develop flowers or food on the buds that remain; leaves will grow larger and the health of the plant will improve.
For example, an apple tree in full bloom is beautiful in the spring. However, if the multitude of blooms are allowed to remain on the tree, the apples that develop will be small, often misshapen and flavor will diminish. There will be lots of apples that are not as good as they should be.
However, if some of the branches from the apple tree are pruned off and some of the buds/blooms removed, the tree will produce fewer apples, but those apples will be larger, look better, and be more flavorful.
Pruning improves the quality of whatever the plant produces.
How To Prune
Use sharp shears and dip in a weak solution of 1-part liquid bleach and 9-parts water to disinfect the blades. This will prevent the spread of disease while pruning.
- When pruning, make clean, angled cuts as close to a junction with another branch as possible.
- A dead or diseased branch should be cut back to healthy tissue.
- Suckers should be cut off near the main stem.
- Criss-crossed branches should be removed at the main trunk so the interior of the plant can receive air and sunlight.
- Snip off excess buds to promote bigger and better produce.
- Prune off top of plant to restrict growth.
After you’ve done all the necessary pruning, take a step back and look at the plant. Prune off any unsightly branches to give the plant a pleasing shape and size.
When To Prune
As a general rule, prune spring-blooming plants immediately after they finish blooming.
- Azaleas, hydrangeas, and forsythias are examples of plants that set their buds for next year immediately after they finish blooming this year. If you wait too long to prune spring-blooming plants you will be removing next year’s blooms.
- Summer-blooming plants should be pruned in the fall (autumn) after the leaves drop. Butterfly bush, crepe myrtles,
- Prune fruit trees after all produce has been harvested.
- Regular bloomers, like bougainvillea and roses, should be pruned at the end of each blooming cycle.
- Evergreens should be pruned in early or late winter when they are not actively growing. Evergreens are typically slow-growing plants, so remove only a few inches when pruning.
- Fall bloomers, like chrysanthemums, should be pruned as soon as they finish blooming.
- Garden vegetable plants, like tomatoes, will need to be pruned throughout the early summer to prevent suckers from developing and to keep the plants from becoming overgrown.
- Anytime a branch is damaged, appears to be diseased or dying, it should be removed regardless of what time of year it is.
- Deadhead all spent flowers after they fade to keep the plant healthy and looking neat. Spent flowers left to dry on a plant are a haven for pests and disease. Harvest blooms when you want to save seeds and allow them to dry off of the plant.