Like most people, I have had enough of this winter weather and am itching to get outdoors and get my hands in some dirt or on some tools. Late winter or early spring, before new growth appears, are considered the best times to prune most plants. During this time a plant’s wounds will heal quickly without threat of disease or insect infestation.
Landscape plants can be pruned to reduce or maintain their size, to remove undesirable growth, to remove dead or damaged branches, and to rejuvenate older plants to produce more vigorous foliage, flowers and fruits. In some cases it is necessary to prune to prevent damage to property.
There are proper techniques to follow when pruning. Plants that bloom in early spring such as forsythia, pussy willow and crabapple will need to be pruned later in the spring after their blooms fade. Such early bloomers produce their buds on last year’s wood, so pruning before blossoming will remove many potential blooms.
While it is recommended that a tree or shrub be allowed to develop its natural shape as much as possible, there are times that weak branches or branches that have formed at a poor angle to the trunk need to be cut back. Thin this type of growth by removing the branch at its point of origin, leaving a small stub of about ½ to 1 inch. Pruning too close to the trunk opens the plant up to extensive decay. Look for crossed branches that rub or interfere with each other and those that form narrow crotches. Pruning such branches will prevent future issues.
Heading back is a technique used to reduce size. Shorten branches by cutting back to a healthy side bud or branch that is growing in the direction you want growth to develop. Make cuts about ½ inch from the bud or branch.
Evergreen trees are not pruned by the same methods as most other plants. You can encourage denser trees by pinching the “candles” of new growth that emerge in late spring. Pinch off half of a candle when it reaches a length of about 2 inches. Using a sharp knife or your fingers will not damage the surrounding needles.
To encourage fast healing of wounds, use sharp equipment that will give you a clean, smooth cut. Avoid tearing the bark, especially on larger lings. Make a slant cut as this will prevent water from collecting in the cut and will promote quicker healing. Clean blades with alcohol between each cut when working with a diseased plant. Finish up with another dose of alcohol and then oil the blade to prevent rusting.
As always, Happy Gardening!
The Purdue University Cooperative Extension Service can be reached at 499-6334 in LaGrange County.