I always cringe when I hear people ask, and no disrespect intended, “Is it OK to chop my shrub right down to the ground?”, or my favorite one I once heard was, " I took my chain saw to my whole perennial/shrub garden and everything came up beautifully the following spring. Some even claim they "run over" their plants with their lawn mowers every fall. If these techniques are part of your pruning regime and they work for you, that's great! I'm just going to share with you what works for me and what I feel has become the best practice for pruning of most plants whether it be perennials, trees or shrubs.
In my experience when talking with gardeners, pruning can sometimes be a bit threatening. Don't let it scare you, as it is a process that requires a little basic knowledge and the proper tools.
As mentioned, there is a simple rule of thumb when it comes to pruning, and as long as you can follow this you will be a master at pruning during each season. Pruning should enhance the natural shape and performance of your shrub, and not disguise mistakes made in plant selection, placement or pruning at the incorrect time of year.
Upon selection of your trees or shrubs, be mindful of the size of the plant and where it is best located. Prune to remove dead or damaged wood or unwanted growth prior to planting, but not an actual full pruning unless it is the right time of year to do so. Making improvements of the shape, promoting flowering as well as fruit production, colorful stems and foliage should wait until it is recommended for the proper growth of the plant.
Because there is so much information on pruning and how to proceed with it, I'm going to focus this first post on fall pruning. Fall pruning is recommended for summer-flowering shrubs such as Spirea, Barberry, Weigela, Ninebark, Viburnum and most other summer blooming varieties just to name a few. Fall can be an ideal time to do rejuvenation pruning with certain shrubs. This simply means shearing a shrub nearly all the way back to the ground leaving only about 12-18". If you do decide to do a rejuvenation type of pruning, it may be another full year before the tree/shrub flowers again.
Use sharp shears or pruners that will result in a smooth and clean cut. It is recommended to cut on an angle; prune a 1/4 inch above the bud, sloping down and away from it. Avoid pruning too close to the bud or too steep. Cut with the slant facing away from the bud is recommended to reduce the risk of disease to the bud below. Be sure to sterilize equipment between each prune to avoid cross contamination of any potential disease from plant to plant. Chainsaws and mowers are not on the list for giving a uniform shape or clean cuts to your shrubs :)
You most likely have experienced that many plants can handle fall pruning, however if you are in doubt, you can wait until early spring while the plant is still in dormancy. This same pruning regime also applies with trees. It is best to avoid pruning flowering trees during the fall season if you wish to see blooms in the spring. Summer and early-autumn flowering shrubs such as butterfly bush, rose of Sharon and Hydrangeas bloom on the current season's growth or “new wood,” which means flowers have developed since growth started that spring. These plants should be pruned just as growth starts in spring.
Avoid pruning any flowering shrub in late summer or autumn because this can stimulate tender new growth, which is susceptible to damage from cold temperatures.Trees such as Magnolia, Lilacs and Forsythias, for example, are avoided for fall pruning because flower buds have already formed on them at this time and if they were pruned in the fall, you would be removing next years flowers. These types of shrubs and trees are pruned right after flowering.
Once leaves have fallen and you can clearly see the shape of deciduous trees and shrubs, it’s a good time to prune. In fact some trees should be pruned in late fall or early winter because they are prone to dripping sap for weeks if they are left to be pruned in spring while sap freely flows. You can prune trees such as Willow, Birch, or Maples by removing branches that are broken, diseased or misshappen.
There are many discussions centered around when it is best to prune roses. I will focus a blog on that topic in more detail during the winter season. There is always much that can be learned about pruning, especially of roses. As for fall pruning, Climbing roses can be pruned, but only cut back smaller side branches a few buds away from the main frame as well as tall gangly shoots that could get damaged in the winter. Most other rose bushes are best if left until the spring when the buds begin to swell and redden.
So... now I trust that your thumb is a little GREENER and you will be well on your way to enjoying happier, healthier plants as a result of these simple pruning techniques. Stay tuned for future seasonal pruning blogs and to learn more of each individual plant visit us at Vesey's Seeds.
Have fun raking your leaves and don't forget to jump in them first!