Basic Pruning Instructions
Let's start this discussion by talking about pruning cuts. Essentially there are two types of cuts that most homeowners use. The first type of cut is known as a ‘thinning’ cut and the other is called a ‘heading’ cut. Most cuts made should be thinning cuts. Thinning cuts stimulate growth. The cut should be at an angle to the bud which will become your new branch on a tree. It's best to prune to an outside bud since that's where the new branch will form. Thinning cuts are those that go back to a strong node. Nodes are a place on the stem where leaves and buds originate. All plants, whether it’s a vegetable such as a pepper or a large tree such as a silver maple produce nodes and internodes (internodes are the sections of a branch between two nodes). Nodes are sometimes difficult to see, an example would be in some areas of a rose. Some nodes are visible while others are not. The second type of cut, the heading cut removes only the terminal portion of a branch. This type of cut is typically made back to underdeveloped node, a branch too small to become a terminal branch.
Not all cuts need to be completed as described above. An example would be when creating a hedge or topiary. Although it’s often preferable to use the above methods, it’s certainly not worth the time and effort needed to prune all plants in such a definitive manner. Often you’ll read about insects and diseases that may attack plants that are not pruned correctly; we have personally not found that to be the case in most circumstances. We are not recommending that you not follow good pruning practices, just that you use common sense when pruning.
It’s sometimes said that you should not use ‘Pruning Spray’ when trimming trees and shrubs. There was a time a few years back when this practice was highly recommended, however, pruning paint is not necessarily recommended these days. Certainly everyone is entitled to their opinion but we aren’t in agreement with that theory. Here’s our thought on that subject: use pruning paint on cuts that are greater than ¾ of an inch and forego any cuts smaller than ¾ of an inch in diameter (although we cover plants such as roses with Elmer’s Glue). Think about this, when you make a cut, let’s say a 3-inch cut on a tree, where is the protection on the cut if you don’t cover it with pruning paint? There certainly is an opportunity for insects to enter without any protection. Roses and a few other plants often come to mind regarding borers because of cane borer . Again, we don’t think time is justified on small cuts, but on larger cuts, you make the decision. A large tree can be quite expensive to replace if insects enter because you didn’t protect the wound! If it wasn’t really necessary, large wholesale manufactures such as Bonide and Ferti-lome would certainly drop it from their line of products. So, you now know where we stand on this subject.
We are often asked ‘When should you prune a tree’? To start this discussion, our information is relevant to the Boise area. The writer of this article has been in the landscape and nursery for nearly 40 years and is an Idaho Certified Nurseryman.
Having said this, let’s begin by stating that it depends on the size of the tree, but generally you can prune any time of year when the cut is smaller than 1/2-inch. For larger cuts, pruning should take place during the fall months or in the spring. We feel the key to pruning is relative to temperature. Fall pruning should take place once plants go into dormancy. This takes place when the leaves start falling and the temperature is above 25 degrees. Late winter pruning is not recommended. As you read through the many articles related to pruning, there are many recommendations. Same is true of fertilizing, type of lawn seed to use, spraying chemicals or for that manner, what type of food your dog should eat. Over the past 40 years, we have pruned in both fall and spring successfully with any major problems. That said, spring pruning should take place prior to the buds swelling and the temperature is above 25 degrees for several days. In the previous sentences we have referred to pruning trees. There are exceptions to everything however and the first one that comes to mind is pruning roses. This should never be done in the fall. Most folks around the Boise area say that pruning roses among other things should take place when the snow is off Shafer Butte and this is certainly a good recommendation. We typically recommend March 15 which is easy to remember and about that same time.
Pruning perennials and many shrubs typically takes place in the spring with the exception of spring flowering shrubs. They should be pruned in the spring after the complete their blooming cycle. An example would be forsythia. Then there are Rhododendrons which needs pruning after they complete their blooming cycle, but with other concerns relating to pruning.
What's the products we recommend most often ? Almost always its Ferti-lome, Hi-Yield, and Natural Guard. These products were developed by farmers and manufactured in Bonham, Texas. If its good enough for farmers who have generations of success with their products, it's certainly worth considering for the urban gardener. We have used and recommended these products for over 43 years with great success. The key to successful gardening is to follow a schedule. Whether you're controlling insects in the vegetable garden or fertilizing the lawn, great gardeners know to follow a schedule. Have a question about when to apply a garden product? Email us and we'll get back to you with an answer.
There are complete books written on pruning and we could talk about this subject for countless hours, but with limited space, we suggest you contact us by email if you have a particular question on when or how to prune a plant in our area. For that manner, we can answer most all questions regarding insects, lawns, plants, trees sprinkler systems and a variety of garden related questions. Just email us your question and we’ll do our best to get back to you in a timely manner.