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To Prune or Not Prune Garden Sense

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Pruning Ornamental Plants

Why do we prune plants? Wouldn’t you think it was better to let nature take its course and let them grow? Actually there are many reasons to prune a plant.

  • cut off dead and/or diseased material
  • sculpt into desired shape
  • encourage budding
  • remove suckers and new growth
  • remove branches around wires or structures
  • thin overgrown shrubs
  • When is the best time to prune plants? That depends on the plant and the time of year.
    Most hardwood shrubs and deciduous trees are best pruned during the dormant season. This is when the plant’s energy is returned to the roots and main circulatory system away from the buds and limbs. By mid-winter most plants have leaf and flower buds set for spring growth.
    The exception to this rule is early flowering shrubs (before June). Flowering shrubs like azaleas for example, should be pruned directly after flowering. Pruning then will generate a little new growth but more importantly it will set the buds for a full bloom the following year.
    Rule of thumb when pruning shrubs of any kind is to only cut back 1/3 of the plant per pruning. I say per pruning because plants don’t necessarily need to be pruned yearly to be healthy.
    Cutting dead wood and diseased material.
    When cutting dead branches or removing storm damaged limbs you need to slope your cut away from the trunk at no more than a 45 degree angle. Water will run off this cut and your tree will more easily form a protective collar of bark around the wound. Avoid leaving stubs since it may die back and become a gateway for insects and disease.
    sculpting and encouraging budding
    Try to follow the natural shape of the tree or bush. Avoid top shearing. Just cutting back the tops or sides of a shrub or tree will encourage sucker growth. Cut branches back to about 1/2 inch above a bud. Try not to cut terminal or “tip” buds off branches. This may encourage that branch to split into two suckers producing no flowers.
    Cut suckers back to the source. New growth can change the size and shape you desire. Safely remove new growth in the same manner as dead wood.
    Thinning not only shapes dense shrubs but allows light in and better air circulation. This can be done two ways. You can cut out up to one-third of the plant at the base. Also try to compromise by some cutting out old and new branches. Another method is to remove lateral branches by cutting to deep inside the shrub. This will allow the shrub to fill out without overcrowding.
    If you have a question about pruning a particular species of tree or shrub leave a comment below or email me at cindysrecipesandwritings@gmail.com.

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    Cindy's Recipes and Writings

    As a professional cook, I love creating exciting new recipes on the job as well as at home. Assisting in teaching low-income families how to buy, store and prepare healthy food through Penn State’s alliance with Pennsylvania’s Supercupboard Program was very rewarding. During my 11 years with the Master Gardener program, I taught horticultural therapy to assisted living patients using healthful, fr
    esh grown food as a focal point. . My hands-on programs and instruction helped hundreds of children and adults learn about where their food comes from and how important fresh food is for your body.
    Currently I’m a cook at a college in Pennsylvania. We prepare everything we can from scratch, including our potato chips that tout the seasoning of the day!
    Of course I write about food; it's in my blood!

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