Pruning is a simple technique but one that is often misunderstood. It is one thing to rid your plants of deadwood, but quite a different matter to stimulate its growth through specific cuts.
Pruning is the act of cutting limbs of a plant to achieve a desirable outcome of growth. Lateral and horizontal growth can be achieved by pruning the right stems. For evergreens, pruning can be done any time of the year, while for seasonally blossoming plants, pruning time matters.
Learning how to prune correctly is a skill you learn over time. There are foundational elements that any gardening enthusiast should master for the health and beauty of their plants; this is especially true for trees and bushes.
What is Pruning?
Pruning is a topic that sends shivers down the gardeners’ spines. It is a tricky subject and can negatively impact the growth of your plants if misapplied. However, one thing that can be said with certainty is that it stimulates growth.
How it manages that requires you to know one fundamental principle; the Apex (main) shoot is the prime focus of a plant during growth – cut that shoot and the focus changes. The more offshoots your plant has, that focus shifts, and the development is stalled. So, how do you manage growth as a gardener? You focus on the shoots that you want to grow and prune the others.
Pruning is the art of selecting which branches and stems you want to grow and removing the unwanted ones. This can be dependent on the location of the plant in your garden or how you want the plant to look. It can also be dependent on how you want your plant to interact with its surroundings.
There are many reasons to prune, but the foremost reason is to stimulate growth in the areas you want and curtail it where you don’t.
Why does Pruning induce bushy growth?
Consider the bonsai; they are small Japanese trees that are part of Oriental culture. They live on for years and are often in the image of how the owner wants them. One can have them grow vertically or horizontally; everything is managed via a process of measured deliberate pruning that supports the growth of the plant but keeps the size in check.
What about fruit trees and vines? In the wild, they can grow in all directions and reach heights that are not associated with farming. But when grown at scale for their produce, their growth is managed for picking fruits and maximum access to sunlight.
The same principle is applied to hedges. No one wants wayward hedges in their garden; you want them at a certain height and width. This is all managed by pruning.
Pruning can be implemented for a variety of reasons. From shoot growth to sideways broadening, everything can be achieved. If you do not want apical dominance (when the main stem of a plant grows more than the offshoots), prune the main shoot and it will balloon in other directions.
Bushy growth can be stimulated in this manner. Take the focus off from the main shoot and the plant will focus on other areas of growth. In this manner, you will see greater growth as the apex shoot is bigger and requires more nutrients, while the offshoots are smaller, require less energy, and spread faster. This phenomenon can be easily witnessed when hedges are trimmed at the top, which results in the increased sideways growth.
Regrowth is most significant in the shoots closest to the apex that has been pruned— the uptake of water and nutrients increases in those areas, which results in their more significant expansion. The more a plant is pruned, the more you can see growth in the remaining areas. It is a game of balance, the aboveground plant has to use the food and nutrients that the roots have made available for it, or it can have an adverse impact.
When should I prune to encourage growth?
You can prune a plant when you want to; it will not damage them. However, you may sacrifice their flowering season and upset their internal balance, though not with a big impact. It is more pronounced in fruiting trees, where the overall fruit growth can be delayed.
For evergreens, you have a more freehand but for seasonal plants, this is a tricky question whose answer depends on the season. For the sake of simplicity, we will consider evergreens and shrubs as summer plants as their activities are dormant in winters. However, it is to be remembered that each plant has their own times of activity and dormancy, and you should pay attention to particular plants to learn their nuances.
Summer blooming plants should be pruned in late Winter and early Spring to give them the best shot at rapid growth. Pruning can also be done just after the flowers fade so that they have ample time to grow before the next season of bloom.
Winter hedges, like leylandii or conifers, should only pruned in Summer when you can manage their shape. For bigger plants like these, shearing is the most efficient way to keep them in check.
While pruning at full bloom is usually discouraged, some gardeners go through with the activity nonetheless. The idea is to get an idea of how much final thinning will be required when the plant is in its dormant period.
Pruning is an iterative process and should always be done with a final idea in mind; remember that plants are living beings and cutting them should not be done in a haphazard manner. The balance of curbing their growth without limiting their self-sustainability should always be borne in mind.
How do you prune plants to encourage growth?
The way to cut the stems will depend on the effects you want to bring. There are four basic pruning types, all of which bring about different results.
The most basic pruning method is pinching. You do not need any equipment for this and it does not even require you to cut. As the name suggests, you simply pinch off the stem that you want to remove. It is done to direct growth in specific directions and stop bushy growth.
While pinching is done to avoid congestion, heading cuts are used to support it. The shoot is cut just after the first bud/leaf has appeared; this encourages growth of the bud closest to it, stimulating it mushrooming growth.
Unlike the first two types, shearing is more broad-brush method for managing dense growth in shrubs and hedges. Shears are used to give the bush a shape, which results in interlocking growth beneath. As a consequence of shearing pruning, new buds are produced and the growth hastened laterally rather than vertically. If you need help choosing the right shears, we’ve got you covered!
Thinning cuts are used to limit regrowth, rather than encourage growth or maintain the plant’s shape. Complete stems and branches can be removed to get rid of unwanted shoots and limit growth in those areas. The focus of the plant returns to the apex stem, which requires more effort than growing the offshoots, and as a result, the tree maintains the shape that is given to it. Heading cuts should be avoided when thinning a plant.
What are the benefits of pruning plants?
As we’ve mentioned, the base reason for pruning is to direct the growth of a plant. Some privacy hedges may need to grow upwards rather than outwards. Garden hedges often need to be compact with a definite shape so that they complement the surroundings they are in. Topiary plants require a great deal of pruning attention to maintain really precise forms.
But this is not the only reason why pruning is used.
For farm owners, pruning fruit trees and bushes to ensure produce is a priority. They do not want one plant to interfere with the growth of the one next to it. Moreover, if they can help it, they want the picking process to be easy. Vines and fruit trees are pruned for these reasons.
Pruning not only allows to shape the plants, but also ensure their healthier growth. This is why broken branches should be pruned along with pest-ridden ones.
Pruning is adopted to ensure safety. Plants like to grow where there is least resistance and nutrients like sunlight are abundant. These may interfere with human life. We prune to ensure that the trees are not impeding our lives, while broken branches are pruned to avoid future accidents.
As you can see, pruning is a sophisticated process, but it isn’t difficult. If you have a plan on how you want to direct the plants growth, you can use different types of pruning to encourage the desired development, without causing undue damage to the plant. Take the time to learn how your plants behave, and a small amount of work each year at the right time will ensure a healthy hedge for years to come.