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Tree & Shrub Pruning 101

Fri, Apr 27th, 2001
Posted in

Virginia CooperMonday, April 30, 2001

The best time for pruning most ornamental trees and shrubs is now, before the buds break. You can really see the branching structure when there are no leaves. Pruning promotes plant health and stimulates new growth. You may need to prune to maintain plants at their current size so they do not outgrow their location in the landscape. You can improve your plants appearance by simply removing dead wood.

When pruning for health remove any dead or dying branches. Look for any signs of disease, severe insect infestation, or damage from animals, storms, or other adverse mechanical damage.

Remove any branches that rub together. Avoid topping trees. When removing large branches the stubs that are left can cause health problems because the woody tissue is open to the air. Springtime is the time of fastest growth so the plant will heal faster and therefore reduce the time that the tissue is exposed.

Removing large branches can ruin the plant’s natural shape, promote suckering and the development of weak branching structure. However, for safety's sake you may need to remove any large branches that hang over your roof, sidewalk or driveway. Another safety tip: prune shrubs or tree branches that obscure the entry to your home.

Maintence pruning keeps plants from getting overgrown in the landscape, encourages flower and fruit production and maintains hedges or other special forms.

When pruning to increase flowers, the general rule is that if the plant sets the flower buds in the fall, then the buds are already there and any pruning done now will remove flower buds. Not a good thing. These early blooming shrubs should be pruned immediately after they finish blooming: apricot, azalea, chokecherry, flowering plum or cherry, Forsythia, Juneberry, lilac, magnolia, early blooming spirea.

If the shrub blooms on new wood it may be pruned in spring before growth begins. Plants with marginally hardy stems such as clematis and shrub roses should be pruned back to live wood. Hardier shrubs such as late blooming spireas and smooth (snowball) hydrangeas should be pruned to the first pair of buds above the ground.

Shrubs grown for foliage rather than flowers should be pruned in spring, before growth begins. This includes: Alpine Currant, Barberry, Burning Bush, Dogwood, Honeysuckle, Ninebark, Peashrub, Smokebush, Purpleleaf Sandcherry and Sumac.

To avoid Oak Wilt disease do not prune oaks during April, May, or June. If oaks are wounded or must be pruned during these months, paint wounds with latex paint as a dressing to mask the odor of freshly cut wood so the beetles that spread oak wilt will not be attracted to the trees.

Always prune Honey Locusts while they are still dormant in late winter or very early spring to avoid stem cankers. If you must prune in summer avoid rainy or humid weather conditions.

Prune apple, crabapple, mountain ash, hawthorns and shrub cotoneasters in late winter (February-earlyApril). Spring or summer pruning increases chances for infection and spread of the bacterial disease fireblight. Autumn or early winter pruning is more likely to result in drying and die-back at pruning sites.

When plants have been pruned properly, it should be difficult to tell that they have been pruned at all.

So, grab your pruners, lopers and shears, and get busy. Take the time to appreciate your landscape whether a small lot or a big farm; and please, do not prune near electric or utility wires, call before you dig and we'll see you next week.

Virginia Cooper writes and gardens in Mabel, MN and can be reached at virgcoop@ yahoo.com

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