Pruning Your Trees and Shrubs Properly

Pruning is one of the least understood and most abused gardening chores. When done improperly, pruning can damage a plant or even cause it to produce less fruit and flowers.

Palm Tree Trimming Phoenix┬ácan help trees survive a storm or other natural event. It can also protect people’s and property’s safety by removing branches close to or growing over power lines.

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Dormant pruning is the process of performing routine maintenance on trees and shrubs at a time when they are not actively growing. This can include elevating low-hanging branches, removing broken and damaged limbs, or creating space between your home or structures and your landscaping. Many times, these tasks can be performed more dramatically in the winter than during the spring, and are a great way to ensure walkways and paths are clear of any overhanging branches that might cause a safety issue for you or your guests.

When pruned during the dormant season, a plant’s energy can be conserved for healthy new growth and blooming the following year. This is especially important for plants such as trees and shrubs that are prone to insect infestations or diseases, since open pruning wounds can make them more susceptible to infection.

During the fall and winter, a plant’s energy is used to store nutrients in preparation for hibernation over the winter. When a plant is pruned during the dormant season, that energy can be directed into repairing the pruning cuts made and developing new buds for the next growing season. Often, dormant pruning is performed in the late fall to early spring, when you can better see a tree’s overall branch pattern without the leaves.

As a result, a professional landscaper can more easily identify the proper shape and form for a plant and remove any unhealthy or dead growth. They can also better target the areas that need special attention, like eliminating sucker growth or promoting certain garden forms and styles. Lastly, dormant pruning can also be done with a greater level of precision than is possible in the summer, when plants are in full bloom and more difficult to assess their health and structure.

The benefits of dormant pruning also extend to commercial properties, as it allows for the safest and most effective way to maintain an estate-quality landscape. With dormant pruning, a property’s landscaping can be maintained to an ideal size, while also maintaining a clean and consistent aesthetic that appeals to tenants, visitors and passersby.

When spring arrives, many homeowners are eager to get their hands dirty and begin their outdoor projects. Pruning is an essential gardening task that can be done anytime in late winter and early spring when trees and shrubs are dormant. However, pruning during this time requires a certain level of skill and knowledge.

Proper pruning can increase the health of plants, improve their appearance, and enhance their overall value to a property. It also can help control the spread of disease and insects, and promotes new growth.

The most important part of pruning is removing dead branches and thinning areas that are overgrown. This is called crown thinning, and it helps maintain a balanced and healthy shape to the plant. Thinning should not remove more than a third of the entire foliage area of the tree. It is also critical to identify and prune crossing or rubbing twigs and branches, as these can cause damage or breakage to other limbs.

Other types of pruning include reducing the size of a shrub or small tree, reshaping a tree or shrub to maintain its form, and rejuvenation. Reducing the size of a tree can reduce the amount of shade it casts and prevents it from growing into structures such as power lines or driveways. It can also improve visibility and reduce the risk of damage from wind or snow.

Reducing the size of a shrub or small tree is typically done by removing the oldest and thickest twigs, which can often be found on the ends of branches. Removing these can help the shrub or small tree grow more densely and be healthier. Reshaping a tree or shrub can help it stay the shape you want, such as creating a defined hedge or creating a more formal garden design.

Some trees and shrubs should not be pruned in the spring. These are those that set flower blossoms before the current year’s growth begins, such as magnolias, azaleas, lilacs and forsythias. Taking these off before they bloom means that you will be cutting off the dormant buds, which will result in no flowers. Likewise, birch and maple trees should not be pruned in spring because they are very sappy and can “weep” sap all over the place.

Using summer pruning, fruit trees are pruned to thin out the canopy, allowing adequate light penetration throughout the crown. This focuses energy into fruit production, prevents over-cropping and enables good pollination. This is the main pruning method for apple and pear trees trained as restricted forms (cordons, espaliers, fans, pyramids and spindlebush) and is also used on other ripening fruit crops such as cherry and loganberry.

A key aspect of summer pruning is to remove any limbs that are dead, damaged or diseased. This not only improves the appearance of your tree but also reduces the risk that a weak limb will fall during a storm and damage your home. Dead limbs also block the growth of other limbs and can be a magnet for aphids, scab and mildew fungi, so removing them makes the tree more resistant to these pests.

Removing suckers and water sprouts is another important aspect of summer pruning. These are twiggy, vegetative growths that develop at the base of older, larger limbs and take up precious resources that could otherwise be reserved for developing fruit buds and spurs. Watersprouts and suckers should be snipped at their bases before they grow too tall and shade other limbs in the canopy.

Many limbs that are left untrimmed will become long and heavy during the summer. If a branch is too long, it is not only difficult to reach the ground to pick fruit but is more likely to break under its own weight during a storm. Summer pruning can help with this by making heading cuts, that is, cutting a lateral shoot back to its point of origin, usually 8 to 9 inches from the scaffolding branch.

Every time a branch is headed back during the summer, it rapidly releases ethylene gas, which rises and saturates the entire canopy. As a result, more flower buds will be produced throughout the crown. This is especially effective on young trees and on scab and mildew resistant rootstocks that are prone to overvigoration from the bottom-up.

A final reason to prune in the summer is to limit the growth of fruit trees that are too tall. Making a thinning cut mid to late summer on an apple or pear tree back to a lateral bearing fruit will lower the canopy and prevent it from shading other trees and alleyways. This is particularly beneficial on scab and mildew-resistant or low-vigor apple and pear cultivars.

Many gardeners prune their shrubs, roses and perennials in the fall, so it makes sense to prune trees at that time too. However, it’s usually best to leave major pruning until late winter-early spring. This is because pruning in early fall stimulates new growth at a time when the plant is preparing to enter dormancy and shut down production of chlorophyll. This tender, new growth is more vulnerable to cold weather damage than mature wood.

While there are some exceptions, it’s generally best to focus fall pruning on removing dead, diseased and hazardous branches. Keeping shrubs and trees trimmed to reduce the potential for storm damage is also important in the fall. In addition, it’s a good idea to take down any dead or damaged branches that hang over structures or create a safety hazard. Prune any branches that have grown into power lines as well.

Other common pruning tasks in the fall include removing crossing or rubbing branches and thinning out dense thickets. In general, a trimmed tree has better resistance to snow and ice and can more easily withstand strong winds. This is especially true if you remove branches that are growing too close to a house or other structure. Pruning crosses or rubbing branches can also influence the health of your tree by directing water and nutrients away from healthy tissue.

Most flowering shrubs and some evergreens bloom on the old growth produced in the summer. Prune these plants in the fall, and you may lose their spring beauty. Examples of these plants include lilacs, forsythia and spirea.

For some flowering and berry-producing plants, such as azaleas, camellias, forsythia and lilacs, pruning in the fall can help to promote blooms and fruit. If you do prune these plants in the fall, be sure to cut back any spent flowers and remove all berries that have fallen. Also, be careful when pruning holly and other evergreens with fruit bearing branches that you don’t damage or cut off the buds for next year’s harvest. These buds are usually protected by needles and will be hidden until spring.