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Everything You Need to Know About Pruning Your Plants This Spring

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Pruning removes stored energy and encourages new growth so, after pruning, feed the soil to sustain and nourish regrowth.

It is one of the most satisfying gardening jobs. In only a few minutes you can turn a scruffy-looking plant back into an elegant and stylish feature.

Also, with some judicious cuts, you can allow more light to flow into your garden, creating a whole new look. 

Pruning is easy, so beginners shouldn’t be nervous; there’s nothing tricky about pruning once you understand the basic rules.

Learn some of the terms and the reasons for cutting back your plant as well as some handy pruning tips here!

When to Prune Plants?

To sustain flowering or fruiting in trees or shrubs, the general rule of thumb is to prune after flowering or fruiting as this allows maximum time for the plant to produce the next season’s flower buds. 

Remove dead growth and rubbing branches anytime as these invite infection. 

Malformed shoots can also be pruned as they appear if they are unattractive. Regular trimming can stop plants invading paths or blocking the line of sight for drivers along driveways.

How Do You Prune Above a Plant Node?

This describes the point where the stalk of each leaf joins to the stem. 

Most plants have a dormant bud hidden on the stem at the base of each leaf stalk. If you prune the stem just above these nodes, the plant will sprout fresh, new shoots.

What Does Tip-Pruning Mean?

Also known as pinch-pruning, this involves removing only the very end of each shoot during the growing season, often with a finger and thumb. 

Tip-pruning encourages more shoots to grow from every cut point, which leads to an even, rounded, bushy plant and more flowering stems. 

It also refers to giving a plant a light clip all over to bring it back to shape after flowering. 

To tip prune, use shears or hedge trimmers on larger jobs such as topiary, for precise lines.

Do All Plants Need Pruning

While some plants such as grapevines need to be trained in order to succeed, there are others, such as trees and many conifers, that look best when they’re left alone. 

Pruning is usually a personal choice and is sometimes driven by a fashion for a garden style.

What Happens If Plants Aren’t Pruned?

Individual plants may be short-lived, and flower or fruit poorly. Leaving deadwood in trees poses a safety risk. 

Unpruned gardens end up becoming a jungle – a complex of confusing elements to some, but a paradise of free expression to others.

When Should I Prune Tropical Plants?

If you live in a frost-free, temperate climate, prune at the beginning of their summer growing season so they respond quickly. 

Pruning tropical plants such as acalypha, alternanthera, allamanda, and mussaenda after summer means that they will look pruned for months until growth resumes. 

Also, reducing the protective cover of foliage increases their susceptibility to cold damage.

Do Pruned Plants Need Special Care?

Yes! 

Here are some useful guidelines:

  • Don’t use shredded prunings as mulch under the same plant, as it encourages pests and diseases. Fruit trees, ornamentals such as roses, iris, and canna lilies, and herbs such as lemongrass and mint can be severely affected. Bury or bin rose prunings.
  • Pruning removes shade, exposing the soil to sunshine, so insulate surface-feeding roots by mulching.
  • Wounds may bleed, dehydrating plants, especially in dry weather. Roses are particularly susceptible. After pruning, water well and apply mulches.
  • Check for pests. Sap-sucking pests love soft new growth. Spray virus-spreading aphids with pyrethrum or soapy water, or rub off. Repeat twice weekly.

What’s Deadheading?

This is pruning or pinching off dead flowers, but it’s not just about keeping your plant neat and tidy. 

Deadheading also stimulates further flowering by preventing seeds from forming.

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Should I Prune My Citrus Tree to Encourage It to Produce Fruit

No, however sometimes thinning is important to reduce fruit drop or prevent branches breaking under the weight of fruit. Thinning also maximizes fruit size and quality. 

In areas with summer rainfall, pruning to prevent branches hanging lower than a meter above the soil helps reduce rain splashing diseases, especially brown rot, into citrus trees.

What Does It Mean to Give My Plant a Haircut?

This is giving an even trim all over to create a tight, rounded form. 

Many gardeners give azalea, spiraea, and diosma a light haircut after flowering. 

Mature Geraldton wax and thryptomene, which often become leggy with spindly, leafless stems, look and flower better tamed by an occasional heavy haircut.

How Do I Prune An Orchid

Ground-dwelling orchids, such as herbaceous Bletilla and Pleione species, may be pruned to the ground in late autumn. 

Tree-dwelling orchids drop flowers and leaves without help. Orchids slowly remove energy from the swollen pseudo-bulb (or back-bulb) at the base. Let this completely wither before pruning.

How Do I Prune a Topiary

Topiary plants are trained to a geometrical shape or with a wire framework to guide pruning. 

Use bonsai secateurs, sheep shears, sturdy scissors, or hedge trimmers. Keep these oiled and sharp to avoid dieback and disease, and to help to heal. Trim monthly in the growing season to keep a crisp shape.

Do I Need a Pruning Saw?

This is an essential part of your tool kit. It is designed to cut through branches and stems too thick for secateurs or loppers. 

Folding handsaws are versatile, as are extendible tree pole pruners with a detachable head. 

The best pole pruners have a bypass pruning blade and a pruning saw so you can maintain hard-wooded or fibrous plants such as trees, bamboo, and palms.

What Do I Need After Pruning?

Once deciduous trees and shrubs such as pear, pomegranate, and roses have been trained by pruning, it’s an opportunity to control pests and diseases. 

Copper-based sprays such as lime sulfur and Fungus Fighter control pests, pest eggs, diseases, and their resting spores. 

This treatment is known as winter washing. Ensure all the above-ground parts of the plant are wetted, including bark fissures. Rinse any spray off nearby foliage and turf to prevent burning.

What Does Vase-Shaped Mean?

The tree or shrub is pruned so the branches spread upwards and outwards, keeping the centre open. 

Maintaining a branch-free, open center in fruit trees such as fig, peach, and plum, and shrubs such as roses encourage ventilation and bring in the light so wet leaves, stems, flowers, and fruit can dry out more quickly. 

This reduces the risk of disease.

The Foliage On My Gum Has Changed Shape and Color. What Can I Do?

The leaves of eucalyptus trees change in shape and form as the tree matures. Coppicing trees in early spring involves pruning them back almost to ground level, stimulating new shoots carrying juvenile foliage.

How Often Should I Prune My Hedge

Timing is important, and it varies between plants. 

If you want a flowering hedge of hibiscus, bougainvillea or spiraea, prune as soon as flowering finishes. 

If you want flowers followed by fruit, as with berberis or Lilly pilly, prune after fruit drop. If crisp lines are important, clip the hedge monthly throughout the growing season.

My Sasanqua Camellia Has Grown ‘Apples’ Can I Prune Them?

Several common flowering plants cause concern when their fruit is first noticed. Camellia, wisteria, hibiscus, and frangipani can fruit following pollination and a good growing season. These can be pruned off.

Can Pruning Spread Diseases

Yes, sometimes. It’s important to routinely wash or rinse cutting blades, including chainsaw blades, in disinfectant.

This is critical when pruning a collection of botanically related plants such as iris, orchid, street trees or trees in orchards (especially apples, pears, stonefruit and pawpaw). 

The most economical disinfectant is 1 part household bleach to 99 parts water. Dip blades for 90 seconds. 

Tea-tree oil, mineral turpentine, methylated spirits or hospital-grade disinfectants such as Clensel can also be used.

My Agave Has Flowered. Does This Mean That It Will Die Now?

Agave is ‘monocarpic’. This perennial produces relatively short-lived stems that die after reproducing. Other commonly grown examples are bromeliad, heliconia, banana and the Burmese fish-tail palm (Caryota mitis)

Agave and related Furcraea often sprout numerous aerial bulbils from dying flower spikes before completely dying, and this spectacle might just be worth waiting for.

I’ve Seen Shears With Straight Blades and Rippled Blades- Which Is Better?

Rippled blades can make slicing through slightly thicker, fibrous plants, such as lomandra leaves, easier than straight blades. However they must be sharp, otherwise, you won’t notice much difference.

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Why Do People Say To Make A Sloping Cut When Pruning Roses?

The most trusted technique for pruning roses is to make an angled cut close to, but just above, a healthy, outward-facing bud, with the cut sloping down and away from the bud.

This allows water to run off the cut stem, and for the new shoot to grow away from the centre of the plant to form a vase-shaped bush. 

Use bypass secateurs for rose pruning as their scissor-like cutting action helps to avoid damage. The cutting action of anvil secateurs crushes the stems of roses, encouraging dieback and disease. 

This style is better for big, tough plants or removing deadwood.

Is It Safe To Put Pruning’s Into The Compost Heap?

Not always. There are certain diseases, such as various rust diseases and root rots, that happily survive ordinary or cool composting. However, the technique of hot composting can destroy all fungal and bacterial diseases, but there are two vital steps that are necessary for success.

Making the heap a minimum of 1m3 ensures it will generate the 60C necessary to kill diseases and weeds. Also, turning the heap at weekly intervals helps expose every part of the heap to the heat treatment.

If you’re not able to guarantee a good, hot compost heap, then any suspect green waste can be either buried half a metre deep or sealed in a plastic bag and binned.

How Do I Stop Sticky Sap Adhering To Pruning Equipment

Most gums, resins, and sticky sap can be removed from cutting blades using eucalyptus oil and light grade glass-paper. It’s much easier to lightly spray blades with some WD40 lubricant before using them on this type of plant because it prevents sap sticking.

My Secateurs Are Ripping The Stems When I Cut Can They Be Sharpened

Ragged wounds can cause stems to die back or invite infections. Some secateur blades can be sharpened at home using a sharpening stone, while others are designed so that worn blades can be replaced.

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Know Your Tools

The most important pruning implement is a pair of clean, sharp secateurs. These tools (along with loppers) have two different types of blades. Anvil secateurs have one cutting blade that cuts against a fixed blade.

Bypass secateurs have two sharp blades that cut with a scissor action. Secateurs with anvil blades are generally cheaper than bypass types but may bruise stems during pruning. 

When buying expensive secateurs, check whether blades can be sharpened or replaced. Always clean blades after pruning by wiping away sap.

What to Prune Now

Nothing beats a good old pruning session to exercise discipline in the garden. Wear comfortable but sturdy gloves, a long-sleeved shirt, long pants and eyewear to protect your skin and eyes from scratches and spines. 

Drink plenty of water and protect yourself from the sun. Lastly, don’t hog all the fun – give young gardeners the benefit of your experience, but keep them supervised.

Wait until spring before pruning cold-sensitive plants such as tibouchina that are frost damaged. The affected parts give them cold protection.

Spring

Shape and train tropical plants and rejuvenate spring- flowering trees and shrubs when flowers finish. Remove stems damaged by winter cold.

May

  • Prune dead palm fronds.
  • Cut back and tidy dead bamboo stems as winter resting period begins.
  • Shape sasanqua camellia hedges after flowering.
  • In northern Australia remove deadwood from trees, and dead fronds from palms, before the bushfire season peaks.
  • Give Brazilian red cloak a haircut.

June

  • Prune winter herbaceous ferns.
  • Use fronds to protect frost-sensitive plants.
  • Clip justicia and plectranthus and other autumn-flowering plants.
  • Winter-prune grapes.
  • Prune oleander to shape.
  • Prune ornamental grasses (unless keeping for their winter form) and kangaroo paw. Remove dead leaves and flower stems.
  • Remove old leaves from perennials such as hellebore and Japanese windflower, plus strappy plants such as agapanthus and clivia.

Summer

Summer-prune deciduous fruit trees after harvesting fruit. Summer-prune roses. Feed, renew mulches and water well after pruning.

July

  • Winter-prune deciduous fruit trees, roses, and other deciduous shrubs.
  • Prune summer- and autumn-flowering perennials such as salvia, acalypha, and tree dahlia.
  • Deadhead winter annuals such as poppy, pansy, viola, primula, and calendula.

August

  • Clip asarina, jade vine, and winter-flowering shrubs.
  • Remove deadwood from deciduous trees.
  • Prune hibiscus, cutting back by a third. Tip-prune native hibiscus.
  • Tip-prune newly planted spring annuals.

September

  • Prune pyrostegia to shape after flowering.
  • Rejuvenate camellia and winter-blooming shrubs.
  • Tip-prune hebe.
  • Deadhead bulbs and spring-flowering annuals.
  • Prune native grasses.
  • Cut down cannas for new growth and blooms.

This article originally appeared on our sister site, Homes to Love

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