The art of pruning



WINTER is a great time to prune.

Lots of gardeners are a bit daunted by the prospect of pruning, but there’s no need to be.

It’s not rocket science but there is definitely a difference between a well-pruned plant and a poorly pruned one.

In Japanese gardens, pruning is elevated to an art form – the careful shaping of every plant is an integral part of the overall balance and form of the Japanese garden.

Here we have a somewhat different approach – pruning and shaping are often performed for functional purposes rather than design ones.

But that’s no excuse for a crude pruning job!

Why do we need to prune at all?

Firstly, there’s the aesthetics.

Skilful pruning can turn an otherwise mundane or even unsightly plant into a feature, by highlighting its natural features or creating a pleasing shape or interesting shape – think topiaries or bonsai, both highly developed forms of this type of pruning.

Second, there’s plant health.

Pruning helps to stimulate strong new growth and sometimes the best way to rejuvenate a plant is to prune it.

By removing old or diseased wood and by opening up the plant a little you will allow more sunlight and airflow to reach the centre of the plant. that can improve plant health.

Some pests, like erinose mite on hibiscus, borer or gall wasp in citrus, or psyllids on lilly pillies, are best dealt with by simply removing the infested parts of the plant and disposing of them.

Third, there’s convenience. If you keep citrus pruned to a height that you can reach, it’s much easier to look after them, spray when required, pick the fruit, and so on. Sometimes it’s a matter of size – you may need to keep a shrub pruned to a certain height to ensure that it doesn’t block the sun from other plants around it. You may also need to remove branches that are in the way, blocking pathways, scraping against windows, overhanging roofs or hanging over the neighbour’s fence.

So, some basics.

If you are pruning a hedge, then nice even lines, with no wobbly bits, are the goal.

Start pruning the hedge as soon as it is planted – don’t wait until it reaches its desired height before you start the trimming.

If you prune a hedge as it grows, you will get a much thicker, fuller effect than if you let it shoot up to the top and then start to trim.

Most hedges will benefit from a light trim two or three times a year.

If the hedge has been left untrimmed for a while, you may need to cut it back quite hard to get it back into shape.

Most hedging plants can handle this. If you’re not sure, check with your local garden centre.

Make sure you use tools that are appropriate for the task.

For a simple hedge, some nice sharp hedge shears will do the job, although a powered hedge trimmer will be quicker. Purists say that the powered tools do not give as fine a finish, but they are much, much faster.

Be sure to trim the top as well.

If you are pruning trees or shrubs, then secateurs, loppers, pruning saw and even a chainsaw might be necessary.

This isn’t as straightforward as trimming a hedge but, if you follow a few basic rules, you won’t cause too much damage!

Prune at the right time.

For many flowering trees and shrubs, this is just after flowering.

Some shrubs flower on old wood and some flower on new, so with a bit of simple observation you’ll get that bit right.

If you make a mistake, you might miss out on flowers or fruit, but you won’t do any major harm.

Remove any dead, diseased or damaged wood.

If you’re not sure how far back to cut, be conservative and then keep cutting further down the stems until the wood looks alive again.

Dead branches will look brown and hard inside, whereas healthy wood will often be light cream or green in colour.

Remove weak, spindly growth and branches that cross over each other, or generally get in the way. Prune to an outward facing bud to limit this sort of growth happening in the future.

If you’re pruning roses or fruit trees, open up the centre a bit to allow sunlight and air to penetrate into the bush. This will help produce a healthier plant with more flowers and fruit.

Even if you’re pruning for convenience, don’t ignore the aesthetics.

Don’t prune off the problem bits and just leave the rest – make sure it looks balanced.

Don’t leave big unsightly stumps poking out here and there. We want the plant to look better after the pruning, not worse.

Pruning fruit trees is a more specialised task and if you’re not sure how to approach that job, do some research first or get an expert.

After pruning, apply fertiliser and mulch to help support the new growth that the pruning will initiate.

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