Pruning Trees and Shrubs
August 5th by Anthony D'Atri

Pruning trees, shrubs and bushes can be enjoyable after seeing the results of a well manicured masterpiece, using the right techniques. Pruning flowering trees, shrubs and bushes, by rule of thumb is a bad idea. Whether you are removing a tree limb or cleaning up an entire shrub, pruning your plants is as normal and healthy as trimming your hair or getting a full blown haircut. Fortunately, if you've over-pruned your bushes, in most cases, like a hair cut, it will grow back!. You can save the life of your trees and shrubs or thwart it to grow, just by knowing a few of the fundamental pruning techniques. No matter what plant we're talking about the reasons for pruning normally fall into a two different categories.

A Beautifully Maintainted Tree and Shrub Garden

1) Plant Health

Pruning trees and shrubs is essential to plant health, damaged tree limbs on diseased plants will and can do a couple of things. They can hold back the maturation of the plant, or they can spread the disease or fungus to the other limbs of the plant. Broken tree branches also pose a threat to safety because all it could take is a simple gust of wind or someone running into it for it to break and drop, becoming a hazard. Branches in the way of walkways for example, can be dangerous to a passerby.

2) Appearance

I, personally love the look of a properly maintained tree or shrub. The shape of woody plants are naturally enhanced by proper selective pruning. Some pruning to give hedges different effects such as rounded, squared off or if you really want to add a nice touch to a property, grab a few topiary plants which will undoubtedly keep anyone busy keeping them in shape. Pruning your plants promotes flowering/fruiting and as the trees and shrubs grow older they put more energy into their roots and foliage. When you prune, you stimulate the plant to flower and set fruit again, kind of like a scalp massage, if you will.

Shrubs are smaller, easier to prune and more accessible than trees. They grow smaller and much more intricate branching systems than trees, which tend to make poor pruning practices or just generals goof ups more forgiving. Out of the proven intricacies of pruning shrubs and trees, an entire profession has developed around tree care, primarily tree pruning. Although the tree guys (arborists) know much more than just tactical pruning knowledge, they are the best resource when deciding if, when and how to prune a tree. They will usually be able to tell you how the tree should be shaped and do the necessary pruning to guide it into remaining in the given shape. One thing to be on the lookout for though, would be to make sure that the arborist you hire is a certified one. Once the tree you are working with is well formed the need for pruning reduces dramatically. Although the pruning has been reduces to a minimum, make sure to remove the suckers that tend to shoot out from the bottom of the tree.

Proper Tree Pruning

Pruning tree limbs is a rather simple task to tackle but there are a couple of simple steps to ensure that you don't completely goof up the job that you have taken upon yourself. Firstly, you want to identify the tree limb that needs to be cut and in doing so you must try your best to visualize how it will look without it. Secondly, make sure the tools you are using are sharp and adequate for the job, or you could very well end up doubling the difficulty of the job. Third, make an under-cut, meaning, about 8-12 inches up from the trunk cut half way through the branch to ensure you don't strip the bark of the tree, opening a whole new can of worms like diseases and infections. Fourth, remove the limb by cutting at the same spot that you made the undercut, but this time cut halfway through the top. Lastly, make your final cut by making a straight cut just past the collar which is the nub that normally comes out of the tree trunk. Ensuring a straight cut stops the tree from collecting water inside the collar which leads to further damage of the tree bark in time.

Proper Shrub Pruning

First off, as I mentioned earlier, pruning flowering shrubs is usually not a good idea. Equipped with pruning shears shrub pruning is as normal as watering or fertilizing and shouldn't be harder to perform then either. The best time to prune a shrub is when it is not flowering or actively growing so give it a touch-up shaping following the spring. The best practice to uptake when deciding how to prune your shrub is deciding the appropriate to buy in the first place when it comes to density, style and size. A shrub won't normally stop growing so you might as well decide if a slow growing one would suit your needs best to shape it the way you want. There are two ways to prune a shrub--thinning it or taking the head back. Thinning removes the branches as or near ground level to reduce the canopy of the foliage which in turn allows light and air to get into the interior to stimulate more growth from the center of the plant. A rule of thumb when removing limbs is to never remove more than a third. For a formal trimmed look shearing is the method of pruning required. This is the process of removing primary foliage in which you will need a pair of hedge clippers or pruning shears to perform. Shearing stops the shrub from growing into it's original form. Something else you can do to stimulate growth from your older shrubs is to rejuvinate them. You do this by thinning the plant back (remember, no more than 1/3). The goal is to remove dead or damaged branches just like you would for a tree and then go on to shape the shrub by removing a few limbs. Some shrubs like Red-twig Dogwood, Butterfly Bush and Forsynthia you are even able to cut right back for the winter and they will grow back the next season full and strong. To make rejuvenation as effective as possible, be sure to put down some slow release fertilizer along with a nice layer of mulch on top to retain moisture and stimulate new growth.

So there you have it, a great article on proper care of your favorite trees and shrubs. If you have any questions or requests regarding any of the above, send me an e-mail or fill out a form in the contact section. Thank you and remember, keep it ecological.