Pruning back plants and trees can be beneficial to appearance
January 14, 2006
The prospect of pruning can be quite intimidating and confusing, but if you've ever cringed at the sight of a butchered tree, you'll want to know a bit about the subject.
First, what are the reasons to prune? A good definition of pruning is the removal of plant parts for a beneficial purpose. Such examples would be the cutting out of a dead branch on a tree so that next storm doesn't bring it down on your house and cutting away a thorny branch that reaches across the path to snag you as you walk by.
Understanding the principle of a plant's response to pruning is the key to realizing its full potential, but you should always bear in mind that at any stage in its life, pruning causes some stress to the plant. It should never be done without good reason or without a clear idea in your mind of the intended effects of each and every pruning cut you make. Plants are very forgiving and if too much is cut, they generally will grow again.
Unfortunately, as in the case of topped trees, the practice of reducing the height of a mature tree by sawing off its top limbs is the quickest way to ruin a tree's appearance forever. It doesn't even reduce the height of the tree for very long because a tree doesn't grow back in a natural-looking way when its upper limbs are pruned to stubs.
Instead, the tree sends out scores of shoots from the cutoff points which tend to be taller, denser and more weakly attached than the natural top was. The weak growth is subjected to breakage and insect and disease attacks in the resulting wounds.
Furthermore, removing all the branches and leaves deprives the tree of its food, so it may “cannibalize” its roots. With weak roots and a bushy top, once the top has grown back, multiple shoots will be top-heavy, and come the next storm with soggy soil, a good wind gust can blow your tree over.
Another reason to prune is to influence flower and fruit production or to emphasize an attractive feature. Correct pruning promotes plant health and can rejuvenate an old shrub. Prune to direct growth. Every time you make a pruning cut or pinch off the tip of a stem, you stop growth in one direction and encourage it to grow in another. This principle is especially important when training young trees to develop a strong branching structure or encouraging any plant to assume a desirable shape.
Although you may prune frequently, pruning isn't a routing task like feeding and watering. You don't cut back trees and shrubs because it's “the pruning season.”
How much you prune or how often you prune depends on each plant and its individual needs. Some plants require heavy pruning each year if they are to produce good flowers and fruit. Others need occasional and light shaping, while others do well with no pruning at all.