We might be in the dead of our winter, but it’s time to do the heavy pruning on your trees and shrubs for this season. These essential functions are critical for those who value their plants and want to keep them nice.
Pruning is like going to a hairstylist to thin, trim and balance out your hair. Pruners do the same for trees to keep them in balance. Here are some ideas to make pruning easier:
1. Remove all damaged and diseased wood.
2. Remove all rubbing and crossing branches.
3. Make final cuts at lateral branches or buds facing the direction you want the tree to grow.
4. When removing limbs, cut back, but not into, the area of swollen tissue where the limb attaches to the parent trunk. We call this a “branch collar.”
Within that collar are all the hormones necessary to bring about a quick healing of the wounds. It’s about a quarter-inch thick so make a special effort not to remove it. If you remove it, the wound will take much longer to heal. It’s fascinating when you first understand this collar and what it will do for your trees.
When removing a heavy limb, use what we call the “ABC cut” method:
“A”: Cut about a foot out but on the underside of the branch. The purpose of this cut is to stop the tarring of bark, which can become an eyesore.
“B”: On top of the limb, but 2 inches further, make the next cut. As you make this “B” cut, the limb will fall but the “A” cut prevents the ripping of the bark off the trunk.
“C”: Finally, remove the stub at point “C” where the branch attaches to the tree, but make sure you do not damage the “branch collar.” When done right, it’s fun watching the tissue cover the wound, and it does it so fast.
5. Each plant has certain characteristics you need to know about. For example, ash trees grow upward, producing many V-shaped crotches that are very weak and may break down in a windstorm. You’ll need to remove the inside branches of those crotches to force the tree to grow out. Mesquites and acacias spread out and droop, so you’ll want to remove those drooping branches to force the tree to grow up.
6. Remove branches crossing through the middle of the plant. You want light inside of the tree to stimulate more leaf production and you will also have less leaf drop especially with African sumacs.
7. Remove all suckers and water sprouts. These straight and vigorous growing branches occur at the plant’s crown and along limbs. These suckers are robbing your plant of nutrients. Get rid of them while they are still small.
Never plant a tree or shrub in a space it will outgrow. Find out the mature size of the plant before planting it. We use to see shrubs like pfitzers planted next to the front door — which is the wrong place. Pfitzers mature at 6 feet high and 20 feet wide and they soon consume the entire space, so the people who planted them were always hacking at them to keep it in bounds. If the planters knew this plant’s mature size beforehand, they’d have saved themselves a lot of time and heartache.
If you have a stagnant plant that won’t respond to anything else, severe pruning will sometimes rejuvenate the plant, especially with small shrubs and trees.
Some gardeners want to severely prune a tree after transplanting, but this isn’t good. Research shows that removing all those branch tips slows the tree’s growth considerably. Within those branch tips are all the hormones necessary to promote root growth and get plants off to a faster recovery.
There is a best way to time pruning of flowering shrubs. If it blooms before May, prune after bloom. Pyracantha is a prime example of early blooming shrubs. If it blooms after May, prune now. Some examples are crepe myrtle and Texas ranger. If you are still confused on when to prune, prune after they bloom.
Finally, when you buy a tree or shrub, you also “sign a contract” to prune that plant every year from Day One. Too many people want to avoid pruning a plant until after it gets some growth on it, but you can correct a multitude of sins with early pruning.
Linn Mills’ garden column appears on Sundays. You can reached him at firstname.lastname@example.org or call him at 702-526-1495.