Friday, February 3, 2017

Points on Pruning

This is the time of year that we can get a little bit clip happy.   So before we head out, loppers and folding saw in hand, let me slow you down with this statement from Texas agri-life horticulturist, Douglas F. Welsh, " In most cases, it is better not to prune than to do it incorrectly".     On to a few pruning basics. 

Have a specific reason to prune a plant.   Here are a few:
  • for the plants health
  • for better flowers and fruit
  • to control its size
  • and to train it into a particular shape, such as an espalier. 
Make sure your tools are clean and sharp.   Most blades can be sharpened with a simple file and cleaned with a steel brush or bleach and water solution.   Rub linseed oil into the metal and wood with a soft cloth.  

Roses and fruit trees are both pruned this time of year - for better flowers and fruit AND for the plants health.   Open up the plant by removing: 
  • any deat or unhealthy wood
  • any branch that cross another one, 
  • any branch growing directly below another one,  
Older or overgrown shrubs can be rejuvenated by one of the following techniques.  If your shrub is looking more like a tree than a shrub, consider one of these

  • Every year remove about a third of the oldest, thickest stems, cutting them at ground level.   This encourages the growth of new stems from the roots.   
  •  With shrubs that have multiple stems (like a cane-growth habit), cut all canes back as close to the ground as possible in early spring.   In some areas or with some plants, you may lose this seasons flowers.   I use this technique for my vigorous growing shrubs, like thyrallis, lantana, firebush, shrimp plant. canna lillies, shell ginger, andTurk's cap. 
Pruning a mature tree is best left to a certified arborist.    A crepe myrtle, however, can be pruned by most gardeners with the use of loppers and a hand saw.   I'm noticing quite a bit of improper pruning of crepe myrtles right now - the culprits are topping the trees instead of taking the time to properly remove unwanted branches at a joint or suckers at the ground level.  They really are topping the tree and garden experts refer to it as crepe murder.  The pic below is a crepe myrtle that has been property pruned through the years. 

And for comparison's sake, here is a crepe myrtle that has been topped.   It has thick knobby joints that will break easily in the wind. 

For more information, visit the sites of these experts:
Proper Pruning Techniques - EarthKind Landscaping
Pruning Techniques with Lee Reich - Fine Gardening
Pruning Crape Myrtles - Neil Sperry and Bram Franklin
Pruning Fruit Trees - Texas Gardeners
Pruning Palms - University of Florida
Tree Trimming - Simmons Oak Farms

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