Let’s Talk about Pruning

Let’s Talk about Pruning

Let’s Talk about Pruning

There are always so many questions about pruning. One of the things you should always remember is that before any cuts are made, the pruners should be dipped in Javex to sterilize them. Once that sharp pair of pruners is sterilized, all of your cuts should be at a 45-degree angle, pointing away from the bud. The cut should be made right above a bud to ensure that the water runs off so it does not rot the stem!

While pruning, if you see two branches rubbing up against each other in the wind, you should remove one of them. You choose which one you want to remove and which one you want to keep. But to avoid creating a wound on both of them, one of them has to go! Remember that branches on fruit trees growing at a 45-degree angle are the best producers of fruit, so try to keep those where possible. The more vertical growing branches can be removed.

It is always better to prune fruit trees—as well as flowering crab apple—in the middle of winter when the trees are completely dormant. You will see farmers out pruning fruit trees from January through the beginning of March, which is the best time of year to do it.

Always remember that pruning promotes growth. If you keep that in mind, you will never find yourself pruning at the wrong time of year. Do not prune until you want whatever you’re pruning to start growing, so the fall of the year is usually not a good time. Late winter or early spring will work, whereas late summer into the fall are not good times for pruning.

Hydrangeas are a group that we get a lot of questions about when it comes to pruning. There are basically two different types of hydrangeas—the mopheads or macrophylla—which are short-growing, and the taller paniculate with a big cone-shaped flower. Once again, you don’t want to do a whole lot of pruning in the fall, but you can do a little pruning just to clean them up and clean the old, dead flowers.

You should be careful with your roses and climbers at this time of year and not prune them too hard. If you have a harsh winter after hard pruning, you may expose what little of the plant you have left and risk killing the plant. You can safely prune off the rose hips and dead flowers, but that’s all you can do this time of year. In the spring when they start to bud out, you can prune them down to a nice, healthy bud.

We’ve often talked about pruning spring flowering plants like Viburnum, Lilac, Forsythia, and Azaleas, which all set their flower buds now. If you prune them heavily now, you’ll be cutting off all their flower buds, leaving nothing to bloom in the spring. It is always best to prune these plants right after they finish flowering. This way, the plant will have time to recover from the pruning, put out new buds, and start new growth.

Evergreens mostly require spring pruning just before the new growth emerges, which allows plenty of time for the new growth to form and gives time to harden off before the next winter comes. Since we know that pruning promotes growth, if you’re pruning an evergreen and you want it to get wider, you prune the top and leave the sides. If you want an evergreen to get taller, you prune the sides and leave the top. This is particularly helpful if you are trying to shape an evergreen hedge. This does depend on the variety somewhat as some varieties are limited in possible growth.

Perennials die down to the ground every year, so you can cut them back anytime now. Since there are no woody stems that need to leaf out next year, you don’t need to worry about any part of them that is above the ground.

Deciduous trees—those that lose their leaves in winter—should always be pruned in spring and summer, which gives the wounds of pruning time to heal over and keeps diseases and insects out. Any dead or damaged branches can be pruned at any time of year without damage to the plant and should be removed as this also protects the plant from diseases and insects.

There are so many different varieties of trees, shrubs, and evergreens that if you have questions about the proper season or method of pruning, it is always a wise decision to ask an expert. Call or drop by the nursery and ask our staff before you start cutting to be sure that you are doing what is best for the plant.

I cannot stress enough how important it is to remember that pruning is always going to make that plant want to grow. My cutoff point for any kind of pruning is the end of July. At the end of July, you have one month before the temperature drops. One month does not give that plant long enough to produce a new bud and harden off before the winter.

Wrapping Your Plants and Trees

It is always a good idea to put three or four stakes around your plant and then wrap the stakes with burlap, because a lot of plants get very brittle, and their branches can easily break in the fall and winter. If you try to tie that plant up and wrap burlap directly around it, you can do a lot of damage. Whatever you wrap with, it should always be breathable material, not tarps or plastic. Most plants don’t need to be wrapped unless they’re newly planted in an exposed or windy spot like broadleaf evergreens, or evergreens, for their first winter. Any plants that lose their leaves in the winter are usually very tough and don’t need to be wrapped.


If you feel you need to stake a tree, the best idea is to place the stake beside the root ball before you have backfilled around the tree. Then tie the tree and the stake together with a flexible material using a figure eight so that the stake never rubs up against the tree trunk. Leave the stake until the tree is firmly rooted in the ground, usually six months or more.