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This time of year often fuels the need to have trees and shrubs trimmed or pruned.  Although most of us want that immediate change in aesthetics, it is actually not the most ideal time to do so.  Proper pruning practices are performed to aid in the health of the plant and not just to make an immediate aesthetic difference.  The most common mistake is pruning at the wrong time and for the wrong reasons.  So, when is the correct time to prune? The simple but technical answer is: based on common horticulture and industry practices!

Timelines

To start, there are two basic times that plants need to be pruned.  Based on the type of plant being pruned most plants fall into these timelines:

  1. Early-flowering shrubs – These shrubs should be pruned soon after flowering in late spring to early summer to promote flower buds for the following season.  Yes, the buds you see in the fall are actually the flowers for the following spring!
  2. Late-flowering/Fruit bearing shrubs – These should be pruned during their dormant time or just prior to the growth process for the season.  These types of shrubs benefit from dormant pruning by not adding any extra stress onto them during the growing or hot and dry seasons.

Misconceptions

Often times pruning is done as a result of a lack of annual preventative maintenance and occurs once the plant is too large or overgrown for a particular area.  This is where things get a little more involved and the patience starts to be tested.  While we all want that immediate change in appearance, it is not always the best option of every plant or even plant type to make drastic changes to its size or shape in one season.  Let’s face it, we all want them to look great while we are out in the summer enjoying the outdoors, but in order to do this, we need to maintain them annually.  The best time to make these reduction cuts is during the dormant season.  Reduction cuts promote new, desirable growth, which is why you don’t want to remove any more than 1/3 of the plant in one pruning.  Removing more than this will promote excessive new stem development which is usually undesirable.  However, over a few years of annual pruning, the size of the plant can be drastically reduced, but continue a natural form.

pruning wide angle

Another common misconception is that a shrub should be “sheared” to be pruned.  Shearing is actually not pruning. It is done for a much different reason.  Shearing is most often done to shape shrubs and hedges.  The process of shearing involves the cutting of all branches and is not done to improve the health of shrubs, but to tightly shape or form a hedge.  Shearing should be avoided unless special effects or hedges are desired.  This type of trimming is normally done in late spring in order to maintain a tight shape or hedge by removing most of the new growth.

Thinning

On the other hand, with proper maintenance, most plants will only require cleaning and thinning methods.  These methods removes branches that are dead, dying, diseased and/or defective.  These cuts will increase light and air movement limiting the infestation of disease and allowing the plant to thrive through photosynthesis.  Proper and sustained plant management will also lower costs involved with pruning.

At the end of the battle, it comes down to making the right decisions to improve health and appearance, as well as control or stimulate growth.  These decisions start with the following:

  1. Correctly pruning starting the same year that the plants are added to a landscape.
  2. Pruning at the right times for each plant/plant type.
  3. Pruning on an annual basis to avoid overgrowth for the given area.
  4. Making the right cuts at the right times to improve health and appearance

For more information, or to have this service added to your plan, feel free to contact your Brian-Kyles Landscape Management team.

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