As beginner gardeners, we seem to have a bit of a problem with pruning. You may feel terrible at the thought of cutting off part of a plant that you spent years cultivating. You would rather let them grow as they please and be grateful that they are growing. However, this laissez-faire approach always ends up in a mess or undergrowth that you're not too happy with. So, pruning is an important part of healthy plant maintenance. Whether hand-hacking or vigorously pruning an overgrown tree; pruning both rejuvenates the plant and helps control it. In this article, Savana will explain the basics of winter and summer pruning, and which method to choose based on your desired results!

raised garden bed

Winter Pruning

Winter pruning occurs during the dormant period of the year when leaves have fallen off and growth has slowed. The sap on the tree has flowed back from the plant, and the chances of the plant dying, being stressed, or needing to be sorted are low.

Since deciduous trees and shrubs have now lost their leaves, this is a good time to see their true skeletal shape. This means you can see exactly those offending or irregular branches that need to be tamed or removed. Winter pruning is far less guesswork and doesn't require wrestling with fruit or foliage. You can stand back and look at trees or shrubs and then clearly remove or shrink those areas.

Winter pruning will promote spring growth. Since the leaves have already fallen, it's easier to plan your pruning.

A common misconception with winter pruning is to reduce the size of a tree or shrub. While this is true to an extent, (you are removing part or parts of the plant), you are actually restoring spring growth.

Winter pruning sends all the hormones and auxin (growth juice hormone) back to the next set of buds, starting where you cut them. This is because the plants have apical dominance, they concentrate their growth on the main stem of the plant, which in turn causes growth upwards to the top of the plant.

When we prune the plant back, we temporarily transfer this dominance to another part of the plant until another terminal bud forms as the dominance. Usually, this transfer takes the form of increased lateral (horizontal) growth of the plant further down. This is why some plants become "overgrown" after pruning. So if you remove an entire branch on an apple tree, the tree urges other lower branches to use this transferred energy.

For example, the top dominance of conifers is very strong. i.e. an upright main stem with more passive side shoot growth. If you try to cut off the shoots, they usually fail to grow into specimens of their own kind. Whereas weeping trees usually have a slight top dominance.

If you prune in winter, get ready for spring growth.

So when we prune in the winter, we signal the tree or shrub to send energy elsewhere, promoting foliage growth the following year. Sometimes this will replace fruit, since the plant only has so much energy to grow or fruit.

If a tree is growing too tall with long, weak branches (i.e. missing flowers or fruit), then winter pruning can help them focus on the tree. Cutting off some of the growth in the form of branches or reducing the main stem will help the remaining tree or bushy shrub.

raised garden bed

Summer Pruning

Summer pruning is a whole different animal, as your tree or shrub is usually in full growth, possibly flowering or bearing fruit. Summer pruning of trees and shrubs is often done to promote fruiting or flowering this year and the following.

Summer pruning limits growth and focuses efforts on fruit or flowers.

If we take the example of an apple tree in the summer, it will most likely bear pollinated fruit. However, sometimes the branches can be overburdened with fruit, which can lead to broken branches or fruit damaged by pests or damage. Summer pruning will remove some of these fruit and bring the branch back to a thorn or set of buds to help focus on those fruiting buds next year. It also preserves this year's fruit, helping them grow because energy isn't channeled into more leaves or fruit. You are restricting growth to divert energy to fruit or flowers.

Summer pruning is also great for maintaining growth. If something is growing the wrong way, or summer pruning can help reduce the size of the tree or shrub. Certain trees benefit more from summer pruning than winter pruning, such as plum or licinaceous cherry trees. This is because they are susceptible to silver leaf disease if pruned during the winter months, September to May. If possible, do your pruning on a cloudy day in midsummer.

 Summer pruning this way limits growth and fruiting. So, if you want to reduce the overall vigor of your tree or shrub, then summer pruning is best.

This is where most people try to trim. They see fruit or lots of potential flowers and prefer to leave their plants and do their own thing. However, you could end up doing more harm than good, or sacrificing really good fruit and flowers for a bad show. It's quality, not quantity remember! When pruning in summer, you politely say to the plant, "OK, this is long enough, thank you, let's focus on what we have here."

Other pruning considerations

There are a few dos and don'ts when pruning that can help you avoid problems like disease or plant stress.

  • Avoid Pruning During Heat Waves
  • Make sure your cut is clean and at an angle to the next bud. If you have opposing buds, make a clean horizontal cut.
  • Birch trees bleed if you prune them in winter, so prune them in September. Check the plant type often to see when are the best times for maintenance (summer pruning) and rejuvenation (winter pruning).
  • There is no need to bandage or smear trim wounds, just allow the wound to seal naturally.
  • Avoid hard pruning in very wet conditions - it's bad for you, and the humidity will help spread disease.
  • Cut back boldly, the plants are resilient and will come back. Long, spindly branches or side branches are more susceptible to wind damage.
  • Always use the right tool for the job. If your secant is struggling; use a larger pair. Alternatively, grab your lawn cutters or use a branch saw instead.

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Pruning will really help you get the most out of your plants and garden design. By giving trees and shrubs a helping hand in winter or summer, you can create a truly productive and beautiful specimen. Woody spring flowers also light log burners and fires. So, make sure you store them in a dry place for about 3 months and you can fully recycle your clippings!


December 20, 2022

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