Pruning and Maintaining Your Garden
With summer now well underway, gardeners both amateur and professional will be spending more and more of their waking hours out in their gardens, making sure that every flower and hedgerow is as well-looked-after as can be. One crucial tool in this endeavour is a pair of pruning shears. With the help of pruning, we can control the growth of the plants in our garden to a remarkable degree – helping to keep everything orderly as well as beautiful.
In this article, we’ll take a closer look at this technique, see where it might be employed, and exactly how we might do so.
Why is pruning important?
Pruning is the main way in which a gardener can control the growth of a plant. If a tree, for example, is starting to spread in an undesirable direction, or it has an undesirable number of limbs, or it is growing in an unstructured, ugly way, then it can be corrected through pruning. The same is true of smaller plants, too.
Pruning can help to emphasise certain parts of a plant at the expense of others. A flowering bud might be made to flower that much more vibrantly if it isn’t competing for resources with vast expanses of superfluous leaves and branches. By pruning these away, we can ensure that good growth is encouraged, and bad growth is dispensed with.
There’s also safety to consider. If a dead branch is left on a tree, then it will at some point fall off. Better that this is done in a controlled manner – as falling branches might endanger people, buildings and power lines beneath. Ideally, you’ll want to remove such branches before they have a chance to cause problems.
When to prune?
Generally speaking, plants should be pruned during winter, when growth is at its weakest. This will stimulate a burst of new growth when spring rolls around, and the plant compensates for the loss by growing faster. You might also want to prune in the summer, however, in order to make small adjustments and correct any undesired growth. It’s also easier during summertime to pick out the parts of the plant that are dead or dying – they might sag beneath the weight of their leaves. You might mark these out for pruning during winter, or address them right away, depending on the circumstances.
It’s worth noting that there’s such a thing as too much pruning – particularly during growth seasons. You’ll want to prune as much as is necessary to achieve the effect you’re going for – but no more. The crown of a tree, where the leaves are located, is where the tree draws more of its energy from. Prune this too quickly and the tree will effectively suffocate, leaving an unsightly block of dead wood. The same principle holds true for smaller plants, too. Knowing when to prune comes with experience – veteran gardeners know when to cut, and by how much. Newcomers, then, should err on the side of caution.
Pruning specific plants
Plants come in many different varieties. Any given garden might contain a multitude of different shrubs, hedges and bushes. As one might expect, each of these requires a slight different approach when it comes to pruning. Let’s examine some of the more notable examples.
Given the proper care, a hedge can form a sharp and clean boundary between one area of a garden and another. On the other hand, if left unchecked, a hedge can rapidly grow beyond its shape and quickly develop into an unsightly mess. Not only does this mean that the hedge looks dreadful, but if will also cast unwanted shade over its surroundings.
Formal, evergreen hedges should be trimmed around twice a year, while conifers will need to be prunes much more regularly. Informal hedges should be pruned depending on when they flower. For those that flower on new wood, such as roses, a mid-spring pruning is ideal. For those that flower on old wood, such as forsythia, it’s best to prune when the blooms fade.
Like hedges, trees will benefit greatly from regular pruning. In the case of most deciduous trees, it’s best to do it while the tree is dormant. This will minimise the loss of sap. There are, however, a few exceptions to this rule – maple, birch, horse chestnut and a few other sorts of tree all bleed sap even during their dormant season, and so should be pruned in summer after the new growth has had time to mature. In the case of conifers, pruning is not really necessary – except in order to remove any rotting or dead branches which might inhibit the growth of the tree.
It’s worth attaching a word of warning here – tree surgery is an art which requires expertise and experience, and sometimes danger. A professional tree surgeon should be called upon if substantial pruning is required to a tree, or if the tree is too tall to be pruned without the use of a ladder. Naturally, work which requires the use of tools like a chainsaw should only be undertaken by qualified professionals.
Through pruning, flowering plants can be encouraged to grow better quality blooms – and more of them. Unlike tree-pruning, it’s easy to prune flowers. It can even be relaxing to do so, as you can move around the garden at a leisurely pace and nip bushier plants as you see fit.
You can promote flowering by deadheading flowers as they fade. This will help to tidy up the plant and stimulate new growth. This will help to stop perennials from self-seeding and causing unwanted growth.
There are also ways in which you might improve the form and shape of your flowers. Some plants, for example, will send nutrients to a flower at the end of a stem, with dormant buds along the stem. Prune the tip and the buds lower down will begin to produce side shoots. Do this to perennials toward the end of spring, and the result will be later and more numerous flowerings. This technique is so widely-used that it even has a name: the Chelsea chop.