I get more enquiries about how to prune plants than any other subject, so this page is an attempt to explain the principles of pruning.
I will cover how to prune the mature plants that you may already have in your garden as a part of regular maintenance. More detailed pruning such as how to develop the shape of a tree over time for instance so that it is balanced and pleasing to the eye, or a convenient size and shape to pick fruit from is beyond the scope of this article.
If annual pruning is neglected, naturally prolific shrubs soon accumulate masses of old dead wood in the centre. This can result in excessive size and diminished flowering. Rejuvenate them during their dormant season by first cutting out surplus material such as dead, diseased and crossing stems, and thinning the number of remaining stems by up to a half.
The bush is more likely
to survive drastic pruning if the process is spread out over two seasons.
Mature trees in general don't like being pruned. If you're thinking of planting a tree, then go for one that you will be happy with once it has reached its final mature size.
There's nothing quite as sad as a tree that was planted in the wrong place and then later in its maturity had to have some major surgery on large branches that results in a stunted stumpy look.
If you do have to perform major surgery on a tree, first of all find out if you are in a conservation area or if the tree is protected, then consider calling in the professionals. If you're not sure what you're doing, it can be dangerous to you, harmful to the tree and result in a mutilated tree that will possibly never recover during its life-time (or yours).
Most tree pruning should be limited to the removal of dead branches or those that have been torn off by the wind. In both cases cut back to the nearest major junction with another branch. If you look carefully, at every major junction of branches is a raised ridge. This is the natural place where the tree will cut off all contact with the branch if it becomes damaged. Don't cut into or behind this ridge, the tree can then better cope if any disease infects the dead region.
Different trees are best pruned at different times of the year
The dormant winter months are an ideal time to prune the over congested spurs from pome fruits. Apples and pears are mainly spur-fruiting trees, meaning that the fruits are produced on short lateral branches some 6-12 inches long. When a tree has been growing for some time, these spurs become over-crowded. The result is a rather untidy looking tree, lots of blossom and lots of small and not very high quality fruit. If you reduce the spurs, then the overall yield won't increase, but you will get a good improvement in the size and quality of the fruit that form.
Remove the older more complicated growth and thin weak stems leaving young vigorous growth behind. It depends on the state of the tree, but you should be aiming to remove about a third of the spur stems. If you repeat this process every year or tow, then the tree will eventually be fruiting only on wood that is no more than a few years old.
The dormant season is the best time to this for apples and pears, when the buds begin to burst it's too late.
A drupe is a fruit with a stone, plums, cherries, peaches and apricots. Drupes on the other hand are pruned in the summer when in growth as winter pruning for these carries a high risk of introducing disease. This also applies to Ornamental Prunus species such as ornamental cherries and almonds.
There are commercially available paints of various types that are sold to paint on the cut ends of large pruned tree branches. Research has shown that these fulfill no useful purpose and in some cases have been shown to actually seal in disease causing organisms and make the stump more likely to rot.
More importantly, ensure that the cut is as clean as possible so that there is the minimum area for fungus etc. to enter. If the cut is clean, then it will seal naturally all the quicker.
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