From the Desk of Ed Hume: Pruning Trees

January 10, 2011 at 12:00 AM Leave a comment

Right now during the winter dormant season is one of the best times of the entire year to prune fruit, flowering, and shade trees.  Before you run and get the pruning shears, though, let me give you one word of advice: Never prune for the sake of pruning.  Prune only those plants that need to be pruned.  I’ve seen many trees and shrubs go an entire lifetime without being pruned or with very minimal pruning.  At the same time, I can show you the shapes of countless trees that have been ruined by indiscriminate pruning.

So when, where, what, and why is pruning necessary?  I have already mentioned that right now during the winter dormant season is when to prune.  However, it’s not the only time.  Corrective pruning can be done in June if you find a branch or two (or more) that is still ruining the shape of the tree.

The best time to prune stone fruits like peaches, plums, cherries, apricots, and any other fruit that has a large seed (stone in the middle of the fruit) is during the autumn months of late October, November, and December.  The best time to prune apples and pears is during the winter months of January and February.

When possible, make your pruning cuts just above an outside growth bud. Pruning in this manner encourages the new growth to develop outward, opening up the tree for better air circulation and sunlight exposure.

This is not the time to prune spirea, forsythia, beauty bush, and other spring-flowering shrubs.  These are pruned immediately after they finish flowering.  Check our web site for recommendations on specific types of trees and shrubs.  However, here’s a general rule that is often used: For plants that flower during the spring (up to late June), prune after they have finished flowering.  That’s because they flower on the previous year’s growth.  Anything that blooms after June flowers on new growth, so it is pruned during the winter or in earliest spring before the new growth begins.

Now that brings us to the question, why prune?  Often it is because there is growth on a tree or shrub that is ruining the appearance and shape of the plant.  This growth is pruned so as to enhance the shape of the plant.  Sometimes it is simply cutting a bit off of a branch to correct the growth habit.  Other times it is the removal of the entire branch to solve the problem.

If you are completely overwhelmed and don’t know where to start…don’t do anything.  Ask for advice from a neighbor, friend, or relative.  Maybe they can even help you, then you can offer to help them when they need assistance with a project.  Another solution that is sometimes necessary is to hire a professional to do the job for you.

An illustrated pruning book is also very handy in helping one decide when, how, and where to prune most trees and shrubs.  Garden outlets, bookstores, and the local library usually feature at least one or more of these types of pruning books.

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