I cringe when I see topped trees. Not only is it unsightly to see a tree in such an unnatural state, it is also harmful to trees. Correct pruning is an essential maintenance practice for ornamental trees and shrubs. However, most homeowners regard pruning with considerable apprehension.
Pruning is not difficult if you understand the basics and learn why, when, and how to prune.
There are many reasons why we prune landscape plants. In early stages we often prune to develop a desired form. In later years, pruning maintains form and stimulates growth. Many homeowners prune too much simply because they selected the wrong plant for the site. If you want a round shrub, plant a rounds shrub. Similarly, use a short or narrow plant in limited space.
Now is a good time to prune many woody plants. My winter pruning plans include renovating several shrubs that have gotten a bit scraggly looking. I need to remove old stems from lilacs, dogwoods, and honeysuckle as well as thin some trees with crossing branches.
When to prune is simple. Prune when the saw is sharp! The only real exception to that are oaks, which must be pruned in winter to avoid disease transmission.
Flowering shrubs need pruned at certain times to assure good flower display. It won't hurt them to prune at other times; you simply won't get flowers that year. As a rule of thumb we prune early flowering shrubs (such as lilac) after they flower since they formed their flower buds last fall on old wood. Shrubs, such as roses and hydrangea, form flower buds on new wood after growth begins in spring and thus can be pruned now.
Explaining how to prune is a bit more complicated. I often start by removing stems with the 3 D's: dead, damaged, or diseased. After that I look for watersprouts, suckers, crossing limbs, and girdling roots. Ideally, create branch angles on trees greater than 90 degrees for stronger limbs.
Most importantly, DO NOT LEAVE STUBS. Always make pruning cuts all the way back to a bud or branch. This means not topping trees, which creates a much weaker tree that is susceptible to breakage from wind, ice, and snow. Many people top weak wooded trees, hoping it will make their homes safer. A better solution is to do proper, selective pruning or better yet to plant slower growing, stronger trees to start with.
To learn more about this, attend Extension Horticulture Educator, Chris Enroth's webinar "How to Kill Your Tree: A Guide of What NOT to do."During this webinar, Chris will discuss all the common mistakes homeowners make when planting and maintaining their most valuable landscape investment, their trees. The program is offered on February 23 at 1:30 p.m. and repeated on February 25 at 6:30 p.m. Three viewing options are available.
- All sessions are available for home viewing.
- Tuesday's 1:30 pm session will be shown in the Peoria and Havana Extension offices.
- Recorded videos of these sessions can be viewed following the program.
For more information or to preregister, go to http://web.extension.illinois.edu/fmpt/.