Master the art of pruning and your plants will prosper.
By Melissa Locker December 19, 2021
There’s no denying that pruning a plant can be stressful. Prune too early, no flowers. Prune too late, maybe kill the tree. Don’t prune at all? That can lead to overgrown bushes and dangerously decayed tree branches. Pruning is a part of the gardener’s life.
Like with most things in life, pruning just takes a little practice and experience to get the hang of it. Master the art, and your plants and trees will prosper. Just remember that you can always cut more, but you can’t cut less. So take your time, do your research, and never make these eight pruning mistakes.
Pruning Too Aggressively
After a long winter, it’s understandable that you want to hit the garden and start snipping your shrubs into shape. Don’t let the power of the pruning shears go to your head, though. Yes, it can be fun to prune, but unless you’re turning your hydrangea or crepe myrtle into a topiary, don’t overdo it. Over-pruning can permanently damage a plant, stunt its growth, and make it susceptible to disease.
Pruning Too Early
If you prune too early in the season, there’s a good chance you’ll snip the buds right off their branches, which means no flowers in the spring. Before you cut, do a little research, like with our pruning guide, or just wait to trim until the plant has finished blooming for the year. As our resident Grumpy Gardener says, “If in doubt, you can never go wrong by pruning a flowering plant right after its final blooms fade.”
Heavy Pruning During the Growing Season
When a tree is growing, pruning can possibly starve a tree. After all, pruning is basically cutting leaves and leaves are how trees make food. In the hot summer heat, leaves also provide important shade to the tree bark and branches, cutting too much can make plants vulnerable to sunscald. During growing season, which typically runs from spring until late summer, take care to leave enough leaves to keep the tree healthy and growing.
Using Dull Tools
Having your pruning shears sharpened is probably pretty far down on your to-do list, but dull tools can cause a whole heap of problems. Unsharpened implements can cause rough cuts that rip the bark, shred the wood, and leave large wounds that are difficult for a tree or shrub to repair, making them susceptible to disease and pests.
Topping a Tree
While occasionally a tree outgrows its allotted space, cutting the top off is generally frowned upon. The process, known as topping, shocks a tree, weakening it and sending it into repair mode as it tries fix the damage and start regrowing. This is why it’s important to pick the right tree for your space. To trim the tree without topping it, try trimming the lateral branches to cut down on size, if not height. The best course of action, though, might just be to call in the professionals.
Bark serves as an important barrier for plants, keeping out bugs and water that can otherwise damage or even kill them. Clumsy pruning with dull implements can end up ripping off the bark, leaving the plant vulnerable to pests and water damage.
Not Hiring an Expert When Needed
While most folks can handle cutting a shrub into shape, when it comes to pruning a tree, that may be another time when it’s best to call in the pros. The taller the tree the greater the potential for injury and damage both to property and to the tree itself.
Not Pruning at All
While pruning can seem daunting, it is important to do. Pruning keeps plants healthy, looking good, and, particularly in the case of trees, safe. So do what’s right for your plants and pick up the pruning tools.