Pruning is an important part of maintaining any landscape or garden. Well today we’re going to talk about the three biggest mistakes that gardeners and weekend warriors make when it comes to pruning and simple ways to avoid them.
The first mistake is pruning at the wrong time of year. On flowering shrubs, one of the most common questions I get is from people that want to know why it’s not blooming. Well, it’s typically one of two things, either it’s not getting enough sun, for they pruned it at the wrong time. And that’s usually the case.
For example, this is an oakleaf hydrangea. it blooms on old wood and blooms in the summertime. Once it sets flower. If you come after that and cut it back, you’re probably cutting off the blooms that were set right after it flowers. So if I come in here in late winter or spring right now it’s may if I cut it now, I cut off the flower blooms because those forms last year.
And yet I don’t see the flower blooms except for maybe just this one, but they’re here. So you don’t want to cut it back after the flower buds are set in the previous year on plants that bloom on old wood. The second mistake when it comes to pruning is using the wrong equipment for the job.
Now pruners come in two basic styles. bypass pruners that work very much like scissors where you have a very sharp blade that passes by a hook. Now this isn’t a bladed section, but it cuts cleanly through live tissue and that’s when you want to use bypass pruners through live tissue. Now the other type of pruner is called an anvil pruner.
Anvil pruners are used to cut with dead wood because it has a blade that lands onto a plate and it basically crushes what’s between it. So an example of that would be dead wood and easy cut. Now, Anvil pruners are wonderful for dead wood, but you would not want to use Anvil pruners on live tissue because it crushes it can cause damage to the remainder of the live plant. And you don’t want that. Now I could use bypass pruners to cut into Deadwood. But it doesn’t cut as well. It’s harder and it’s not as clean. But you never want to use Advil style to cut live or new tissue because what’s remaining won’t be a clean cut and it will expose it to pests and diseases.
So you always want to use your faithful bypass pruners to make that clean cut. likely the third most common mistake when it comes to pruning is not knowing how much to cut or where to make that cut. So let’s start with a general rule. And that is the rule of thirds. The more you cut a plant down, the more stress you induce on that plant. And now there are exceptions to every rule. But if you can just stick to the general rule of thirds, start at the tip of the plant and work down from the top about a third and try to make your cut there or above.
That’s the best you can do for that plant. Now another thing about pruning that a lot of people don’t realize, when you make a cut, you actually stimulate new growth and I don’t want to get into all the science of it. But just to point out an example, a month ago, I made a cut on this branch right here, about a third to a half an inch above two doormat leaflets. When I made that cut. It stimulated those leaf buds to form new branches. So for that one cut, I now have two branches.
And that’s the trick in the horticultural industry. How you actually induce a plant to grow and get bigger is that you cut it back but knowing where to make that cut makes all the difference in the world. So stick to the rule of thirds to minimize the amount of stress on the plant and then know where to make the cut. If it’s opposite dormant leaf bud which means a bud on each side of the branch, make the cut about a quarter to a third of an inch above straight across.
But if it’s a shrub that has alternately floods where they’re not opposite each other, but they alternate one here and then the other on the other side, make the cut about the same distance above but cut it at an angle and look for the one that has the leap but going to the outside because that will form a new branch going out and that’s what you want.
You don’t really want to stimulate new growth going into the plant. You want to get full and go to the outside. So there you have it. Now that you know the three most common pruning mistakes and how to avoid them. you’re well on your way to being a better smarter gardener or weekend warrior.