Basic Pruning Techniques

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Some shrubs and trees require little pruning apart from removing dead or damaged stems, but for many others an annual trim is essential. Regular pruning can improve a plant’s appearance, stimulate the production of fruit and flowers, keep specimens youthful and vigorous, and encourage bolder foliage.

What to Prune

Routine pruning maintains the health and appearance of woody plants. In late winter or early spring, before the leaves of deciduous shrubs and trees appear, look at their overall shape in detail and identify branches that need removing or shortening. Also note any congested growth in the center, which can encourage disease. Then, cut away dead or damaged stems to healthy tissue; crossing branches that are rubbing and liable to create a wound; and stems that are no longer producing fruit or flowers.

Remove stems and branches growing at odd angles that look unsightly and may rub against one another, creating entry points for infection (image 1).

Cut back to young wood, which is often a different color and texture to the older, thicker stems (image 2).

Remove dead or infected wood to prevent further die-back or disease entering healthy tissue (image 3).

How to Prune

When pruning, use sharp clippers for thin stems, or a pruning saw for wood that is thicker than a pencil. Loppers are useful for chopping up prunings into more manageable pieces. Always make your cut just above a bud to avoid the stump dying back into healthy wood, and make clean cuts that will heal more quickly and are less prone to infection. To avoid wood ripping or splitting when cut, take the weight off long branches in stages. Cut to an outward facing bud, slanting the cut so that water will run away from the bud. Where buds are arranged in pairs, cut straight across the top. Two shoots will emerge.

Cutting Branches

When possible, remove tree branches when young, because the cuts heal more quickly. Most should be pruned in late winter, but wait until mid- to late summer for hornbeam (Carpinus), pears (Pyrus), plums and cherries (Prunus species).

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Excerpted from How to Grow Practically Everything

© 2010 Dorling Kindersley Limited

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