Derstine: Basics of pruning
Saturday, March 18, 2017
Pruning is the basic removal of branches and stems from plants. The idea of pruning is simple; however, knowing what tools to use and how specific plants need to be pruned can be puzzling.
Nothing brings out indecisiveness quite like pruning does. People ask questions like “should I prune this plant now? Should I wait? How much should I prune? Did I cut off too much? What tool should I use to prune it?” These questions continue, but if you have ever pruned a plant, you know exactly how many complications there can be. Last Saturday, there was a pruning workshop offered at the Pitt County Arboretum, and if you could not attend, this article will be the best thing for you to read.
Pruning is important for several reasons, some more evident than others. Maintained or improved appearance, size/shape training, injury or damage prevention, plant rejuvenation, influenced fruiting and flowering are all key objectives when it comes to pruning.
Thinning cuts, reduction cuts, deadheading and heading cuts are the most common type of pruning cuts. A “thinning cut” is made by cutting a branch back to the parent branch or trunk of the plant. Essentially, you “thin” the plant by removing whole branches from it. Reducing the length of a limb is called a reduction cut. By making several reduction cuts to a plant, you will decrease the plant’s height and increase the plant’s density. Reduction cuts help give a plant a compact look. “Deadheading” is a process of removing spent or declining flowers from a plant to promote a longer flowering season. A combination of these pruning methods is known as rejuvenation.
A “heading cut” is made when a limb that was cut to a stub does not have the potential to grow a new terminal bud. Branches that can cause damage by leaning over houses, cars, roads, power lines, etc. can be removed with a heading cut. A heading cut should not be used to rejuvenate a plant. Heading cuts should only be made on an as-needed basis, as they are extremely stressful on the tree.
The “three-cut method” is used to remove large branches from a tree. This method prevents the bark from peeling down the trunk when the branch is cut. The first cut is an undercut approximately 1-2 feet away from the trunk. This cut is only made halfway through the branch. The second cut is made halfway as well, slightly farther out than the first cut was made. The branch will then fall off when the second cut meets the first cut. The third cut is made just outside of the branch collar. The branch collar is the area of bark where the branch attaches to the trunk. It is important to keep the branch collar on the tree in order for it to heal properly.
Hand pruners, pruning saws, hedge clippers, loppers and pole pruners are all of the tools you need to do routine pruning jobs. Hand pruners and loppers can be used to cut branches three-quarters of an inch and 2 inches or less, respectively. Pruning saws are useful for cutting branches too large to be cut by hand. As the name suggests, hedge trimmers are great for trimming thin-stemmed, hedgerow plants. Pole pruners are designed to cut out-of-reach limbs. Personally, I am not a fan of pole pruners because it is very difficult to make precise cuts with them. I prefer using a ladder and loppers or just climbing into the tree to do this, but that is not always feasible. Chainsaws are not intended to be pruning tools. Chainsaws should be used to make heading cuts only.
Pruning is such an extensive topic and this article is written to cover it broadly. Remember, each cut has the potential to change the growth of a plant. If you would like more information on pruning specific plants, contact the Pitt County Master Gardeners at 902-1705 or email them at firstname.lastname@example.org. Thanks for reading!
*Note: The Pitt County Master Gardeners will be hosting their annual plant sale at the Pitt County Arboretum on May 20. Friends of the Arboretum members are welcome to come at 9 a.m. General admission is from 10 a.m.-noon. Contact the master gardeners at 902-1705 for more details.
Eric Derstine is the horticulture agent with the North Carolina Cooperative Extension Service-Pitt County. Contact him at email@example.com.