Friday Free For All: Proper Pruning Techniques

In today’s post, I thought that we would take a look at pruning. This will be a mile high view of pruning since people write entire books about how to properly prune. This is NOT an example of proper pruning:

proper pruning techniques

This is crape murder. And it’s disgusting. Please don’t do this to your trees. If you have mistakenly done it in the past, ask for forgiveness and vow to never do it again. Moving on…

Pruning is a beautiful dance of art and science. There are many schools of thought on pruning and you could read every book and article published and still just not get it. The “it” that I’m referring to is the ability to step away from the tree or shrub and know that it was pruned without making it look like it was butchered. That is the art of pruning. Since we are taking a mile high view, let’s look at some pruning techniques.

  1. Removing broken or crossing branches. This should be done at least once a year with trees and shrubs. Of course if you notice broken branches, remove them when you see them. Look for branches that will potentially cross as the tree or shrub ages. It is much easier on you and the tree if you remove them when they are young.
  2. Topping trees. With trees, there is never, never, never a reason to top a tree. Many people incorrectly believe that they are helping the tree by topping it or that the tree branches will be less likely to fall on their house if the tree is topped. The only way that this is true is that if you remove a branch, it certainly can’t fall at a later date. BUT, the flush of growth that is produced by the tree as a result of the epicormic buds breaking is a hazard to your home. Epicormic buds, or survival buds as I like to call them, are weakly attached to the tree and stand a much greater chance of being broken off during a wind storm.
  3. Hedges. If you are the type of gardener that enjoys a long row of hedges, make sure that you are pruning the shrubs so that the top of the shrub is narrower than its base. This allows sunlight to still reach the bottom branches. If you prune your shrubs so that the top is wider than the base, the uppermost branches will shade out the lower ones and you will end up with the umbrella effect.
  4. Rejuvenation. Often times, your shrubs will need to be cut back to the ground completely. Perhaps they have outgrown their space or haven’t been properly pruned in the past. With rejuvenation, you remove all of the top growth and leave 6″-12″ at the base. While you’re pruning, think about how the shrub will grow in the future and remove any branches that may cross at a later date. Common candidates for rejuvenation pruning include Red Twig Dogwood, Hydrangeas, Forsythia and Ligustrum.
  5. Removing watersprouts. Crape myrtles are famous for sending out a deluge of watersprouts from the base of the tree during the summer. These can be removed any time that you see them without damaging the tree. If you see watersprouts on other trees such as cherries or walnuts, you may have other issues going on. Consult your local extension agent or a Certified Arborist for their opinion.


This is just a small sample of proper pruning techniques. I now realize that I need to do a whole series on pruning to more fully explain the ins-and-outs. I’ll add that to the growing “to do” list here at Mid-Atlantic Gardening. Let me know if there are other topics that you would like to learn more about…leave me a comment below or e-mail me at Happy gardening!



April 13, 2012Permalink 2 Comments

Gardening Calendar: December


So it’s finally December in the garden…the time of the year when you can reflect on what you really enjoyed about the garden this past year, look at what needs improving for the upcoming year and ponder any new gardening projects. But there are tasks that are perfect for accomplishing in December and that’s what we’ll look at today.


  • By now, most of your deciduous plants should have been taken down by the freezing temperatures. If your perennials have turned into brown clumps of mush, go ahead and remove the foliage and add it to your compost pile. If some of your deciduous perennials still have green leaves, it is best to leave them so that the plant can continue to photosynthesize and add to its stores for next year.
  • Depending on how meticulous you want your garden to be, you can remove any fallen leaves from the bases of shrubs to allow for good air circulation around the stems. If you have had fungal problems on your shrubs, it’s a pretty good bet that the spores are on the fallen leaves so removing them now can save you a ton of headaches in the spring. Unless your compost gets really hot, it’s wiser to bag the diseased leaves to avoid risking spreading the disease around.
  • If you’re like me, I tend to wait until the majority of the tree leaves have fallen before cleaning them up so now is the time to work on this project. I have woods behind me so I am able to blow them into the woods…it also serves as a sort of stockpile where I can go to obtain leaves when I need them for the compost pile or for mulching the veggie garden. If you have a bagging mower, chop them up and then use them as mulch…see my Healthy Soil article for more information.
  • The biggest chore for December is probably pruning. Now that the stems are bare, it is the perfect time to remove crossing branches on trees and shrubs. You can also remove wayward branches on evergreen shrubs such as hollies and osmanthus. If you are looking to shape your hedges, you’re best to wait until we get closer to spring. Severe pruning will often force new vegetative growth that is easily killed by freezes and late spring frosts.
  • The most exciting gardening chore for me in December is poring over seed catalogs that inundate my mailbox beginning in mid-November. My mind races as I read the descriptions of ‘Amish Paste’ tomatoes and ‘Mandurian Round’ cucumbers. While the sheer number of cultivars are overwhelming, I still make list after list of those I’d like to try. I try to pare it down to a reasonable number, but I am usually met with failure…last year I grew 13 different types of tomatoes.


The gardening calendar for December is relatively short but this is just the beginning of an ever-growing list of garden chores that need to be accomplished. By no means is it exhaustive…I’d love to hear what your plans are for your garden in December. Please share them in the comments section so that other gardeners can benefit. If you have any thoughts or concerns, please e-mail me at Happy gardening!