Skip to main content
Over the Garden Fence

Time to do all kinds of pruning

Recent warming temperatures signals the beginning of the pruning season. Gardeners may need to just help nature shape up a shrub that did not read the rule book on how it should look, or they may begin or continue to structure the tree fruits or grapes in backyard.

Why do dormant pruning?

Dormant pruning is always started once the weather moderates yet while we still have considerable cold weather. The days warm up some, letting us prune without being totally bundled up, while the nights are typically in the low 30s. If you are a home orchardist, you know the clock is ticking now with temperatures we have had. It is time to make sure those apple tree scaffolds are ready to go, able to hold the fruit load later in the summer.

Many landscape plants can be pruned while dormant, and the job is easier because they are dormant. Visualizing what you want to prune or how you want the plant to look like after pruning is easier since you can readily see the plant structure right now. Some of fine-textured, smaller foundation plantings of Spirea and Potentilla that have not been looking too good the last couple of seasons will benefit from rejuvenation pruning, creating a brand-new plant in a single season. Sometimes, when rabbit damage has been particularly bad, or this year, when snow may have effectively broken down the canopy, rejuvenation pruning is the easiest way to help the plant recover.

Other larger shrubs may be best pruned using the renewal method – removing a few of the larger, older stems at or very near the soil line. This kind of pruning leaves most of the shrub standing and if that shrub blooms on older wood, you get the see the blooms even this year. A good rule to remember is that where you prune is where the new growth will occur. If you keep this in mind when pruning, where you make the cuts will make a lot more sense whether you are using the rejuvenation or renewal method of pruning.

How do we choose a pruning tool?

Pruning is going to be easier and less tiring if you use the right pruner for the job. Pruning tools are not used daily, so keeping them clean and sharp in between uses is important. Young plants may only need a good pair of by-pass hand pruners to take care of any pruning they need. As plants continue to grow in size, our tool of choice may need to be long-handled pruners that give the leverage needed for a heavier, woody branch. A good example is in the home orchard. For the first few years, only a hand pruner is needed. As scaffolds are developed and mature, long-handled pruners come into play. Once any plant has outgrown using long-handled pruners, turn to your pruning tree saw.

Want to know when new topics post here? Subscribe to Over the Garden Fence emails.

About the author: Richard Hentschel’s expertise extends across several subject areas with specialties in lawn care, fruit tree production, woody ornamentals, and home and community gardening. During his 45-year career in horticulture and agriculture, Hentschel became a well-known and respected expert for commercial and homeowner audiences, industry organizations, and media. He retired from University of Illinois Extension in April 2022 with nearly 30 years of service as a Horticulture Specialist and Educator in northern Illinois.