Proper pruning is a little more involved then some people think. There is an art
to pruning. It isn't just a matter of cutting or hacking away dead or diseased
limbs. It isn't simply a matter of thinning out growth.
Bushes and shrubs enhance a yard's landscape and the value of the home. It seems only wise, then, to protect the investment and purpose they serve by learning proper pruning techniques.
Let's start with proper pruning equipment. A pair of one-hand pruning shears with a curved blade is a basic requirement and will be perhaps the most used pruning tool of all. They are best utilized for thinning or shortening small branches and twigs.
For branches up to ¾" in diameter, a pair of bypass pruning shears with a hook and blade work best. They are sometimes also referred to as a "hook and blade pruner." Some bypass pruning shears include a thorn stripper and stem crusher built into the handle. These are especially excellent for use on rose and other thorn-laden bushes.
When it comes to larger branches up to 1 ½" in diameter, loppers, sometimes referred to as two-handed manual pruning shears, work best. They are ideal for larger, older bushes, vines and small trees. Their long handles increase leverage and allow the person using them to bypass dense growth and get close to the trunk.
A pruning saw is required for branches over 1 ½" in diameter. They come in several models. The one-hand held model usually has a 6-16," filed or 3 or 4-sided toothed blade. Larger models requiring both hands may come with extenders, converting them from about 6' to somewhere around 14' long. Pruning saws can be manual, battery powered, or electric.
The proper way to prune is to make a cut using a 45-degree slant; make the cut just outside the swollen area where the branch joins the trunk or another large branch. This area is called the "branch collar."
Cutting the branch at a proper angle will help speed up healing of the pruning "wound." A flat cut will prevent effective healing and provide a convenient entry point for disease and rot organisms.
Use the bypass pruning shears to head a small branch back to a bud. Using a 45-degree angle, cut ¼" above the bud in the direction of the bud growth; this will be the same direction the new branch will grow in. When simply shortening a small branch, make your cut just past a lateral bud or offshoot branch.
Research bush and shrub types to distinguish those that respond better to heavy annual pruning from those that require only light pruning. The common butterfly bush, for example, loves heavy pruning. Although blossoms will be fewer they will be larger, healthier, and lovelier.
Spring-flowering shrubs begin new bud growth in late summer, while those that flower in the summer develop buds in the spring. Flowering shrubs should be pruned prior to, not after, new bud development.
Lilacs do well when lightly pruned just above the ground to remove older stems and suckers. Pruning spent blooms will encourage more abundant flowering. By making a list of the shrubs and bushes on your property and researching their specific needs, you can customize pruning of each for maximum benefit and superior results. You also avoid wasting unnecessary time and energy pruning when it is neither necessary nor beneficial to the plant.
Knowing what piece of pruning equipment to use for each specific purpose is important. Knowing the proper way to prune, and when and how much to prune, are equally important. Combined, they go a long way in preserving the health and overall beauty of your yard's landscape. Visual proof as to the success of your maintenance efforts!