Gardening: Regular pruning keeps plants shapely

Pruning deciduous trees and or shrubs is typically done in fall, winter and early spring, when the plants are dormant. Exceptions are early blooming shrubs as pruning at this time will remove next year’s flowers.

Plants are pruned to remove dead or diseased growth, improve shape or for convenience.

Following a few basic rules makes a difference between the finished projects being pleasing to the eye or an eyesore. Do not remove more than ¼ of the plant in a year. Removing more will encourage the plant to send out a large number of new sprouts that look horrible and the plant cannot sustain all the growth.

Use sharp tools. Dull tools make the job harder and tends to tear the bark. Ragged cuts are harder for the plant to heal.

Hand held pruners cut small branches up to a half inch (1 cm) in diameter. Loppers, depending on the size of the cutting head, should be used to cut branches between a half to one inch (1-2 cm) in diameter. Do not be tempted to cut larger branches with loppers as it often results in jagged cuts that need to be redone.

There are two different styles of cutting heads found on loppers and pruners; bypass and anvil. The by-pass heads work like scissors; the blades cut from both sides as they move towards and past each other. When sharp, they leave a smooth cut. Anvil cutters have one sharp blade and a flat surface that the stops the blade. This style of pruning head tend to squish stems and become dull quickly.

A pruning saw is needed for larger limbs. Choose one with large teeth on one side as they cut quickly and do not bind or become stuck in the sap. Saws with teeth on both sides often cut two branches at once; leaving remaining branches damaged.

Always cut back to another branch, the ground or a bud. When branch is cut in a different location, it dies back to another branch, a bud or the ground leaving a dead stump. Plants can not heal, grow a callus over, stumps which leaves the plant susceptible to insects and diseases.

Start pruning by removing all dead and or diseased material. If it is diseased, try to cut back into healthy wood which will be a constant colour.

Next look for branches that are rubbing together. The friction will make holes in the bark that can weaken the plant by letting in insects and diseases. Before removing one of the branches, take into account the final shape of the plant. If removing one of the branches will leave the plant misshapen, remove the other branch. Another choice would be to remove the branch that is growing into the plant as opposed to outward. Inward growing branches will rub on other branches as they grow. If neither of these situations are relevant, remove the smaller branch.

If the plant is a tree, it is time to shape it. This can mean, cutting back a branch that sticks out or removing branches that block paths or lean on roofs.

When pruning a shrub, once all the dead diseased and crossing branches are removed it is time to remove one or more of the older branches at root level allowing light into the centre of the plant which will encourage new growth.

Regular pruning keeps plants shapely and healthy and avoids the need to remove a massive amount of branches.

Linda Tomlinson is a horticulturalist that lives near Rocky Mountain House. She can be reached at

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