Almost all shrubs in your yard require some pruning from time to time. If your landscape is gifted with much shrubbery or fruit trees, then you should take time to learn the ‘whys, whens, and hows' of proper pruning. Unsightly plants often result from not pruning or pruning incorrectly
Why prune? Pruning helps to produce attractive, well-formed compact plants. Pruning stimulates new plant growth by forcing dormant buds to develop. Most of the new growth that develops as a result of pruning occurs within 12 inches or so of the cuts. In some cases, pruning is done to shape plants by removing overgrown or misshapen branches or low limbs that interfere with foot traffic and lawn mowers, pruning also removes diseased or insect damaged wood.
When to prune? February and March are excellent months for pruning many shrubs any overgrown plants and fruit trees. Spring is just around the corner and the warm temperatures will help to force out new buds after pruning. All evergreen plants and summer flowering shrubs should be pruned during this time. Spring flowering shrubs such as azaleas, forsythia, flowering quince and dogwoods should be pruned after they have completed flowering. Pruning these plants in February or March would remove their flower buds. As a general rule, if the plant blooms before or at the same time as azaleas, or in the spring, prune it in the summer. If the plant blooms after azaleas, or in the summer, prune it in the spring. The best time to prune all fruit trees is in late February or March while they are still dormant (or should be depending on weather).
What about those huge overgrown shrubs which obstruct windows, doorways and walks? Drastic pruning is the only answer in this situation. You can rejuvenate most overgrown shrubs by pruning them back severely to within a foot or two above ground level. Most broadleaf shrubs, including azaleas, Japanese hollies, Chinese hollies, camellias, gardenias, nandinas, abelias, and crape myrtles respond very well to heavy pruning if the plants are healthy and well established. Providing you prune at the proper time, late February to March, a healthy broadleaf shrub has an excellent chance of recovery. Old, weak or diseased plants, however, often cannot endure the stress of being severely pruned. These plants should probably be replaced.
Boxwood is one of the plants that you should prune with caution. It is best to remove no more than 20% of the foliage at any one time as they are very slow to recover from heavy pruning. Light annual pruning will prevent this overgrown condition from occurring. Other plants that do not respond well to severe pruning include junipers, cedars, yews, arborvitae, and hemlocks.
How do I prune? Although shearing is still used to shape some small leafed shrubs like hollies and boxwood to an attractive form, thinning of individual branches with hand pruners is the preferred method for pruning most plants. When cutting back large limbs, a pruning saw is the best tool to use for making clean cuts; however, you can use lopping shears to cut limbs less than one half inch in diameter. Be sure that your pruning tools are well sharpened and that the cut is made almost flush to the larger limb or trunk. It is a good idea to dip your pruning shears in a solution of rubbing alcohol or 1 part bleach to 9 parts water after each cut to reduce disease transmission, especially when pruning fruit trees.
Pruning is an annual practice for fruit trees. Proper pruning of fruit trees increases fruit set and quality. Pruning controls the size of the tree so that spraying and harvesting is easier. Pruning also opens up the tree so that inside leaves can receive more light; plus the tree is generally more attractive if pruned. And just in time for Valentine’s day Roses are red, and violets are blue, plants need pruning every now and then to make them anew.
Bill Starr is Sumter County Extension agent, University of Georgia Cooperative Extension. Contact him at 924-4476.
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