Pruning is not just about chopping the top off a plant that is growing out of control. If you get it right, you will be rewarded with a plant that produces more flowers and fruits, has a good shape, and is a lot less prone to diseases.
Pruning inspires plants; it is a chemical thing that makes them grow better in a more structured way. This may sound a bit of ironical but cutting plants back will actually stimulate rapid growth. Here are some basic guidelines to help you prune your plants right:
Get the right tools
Getting the right tools is essential not only to make the work easier and enjoyable, but also to get a good cut. If you try using a panga (machete) or pair of blunt kitchen scissors, you are likely to end up with lots of mashed stem blisters on your hand.
The basic pruning set should include a good pair of secateurs for cutting stems and twigs up to one centimetre thick, a pruning saw for smaller branches, loppers for any hard-to-reach tough stems and garden shears for trimming soft growth.
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Most plants need an annual prune just after they finish flowering to keep them healthy and productive. A cut in the right place, at the right time, can encourage side shoots, fruiting spurs and more flowers. A cut at the wrong time gets get nothing. The best time for pruning depends on the plant and when it flowers or fruits.
There is no shortcut. To do it properly, you need to carry out a bit of research on the plants and find out their growth cycles. Many roses, soft fruits and fruiting trees, need pruning during their dormant season when they are not growing actively. This is typically during the drier months of January through to March.
Generally, however, keep an eye on things and try to avoid drastic action where one minute your garden is be looking overgrown, the next it is all bear and bald. The best approach is to consult a knowlegeable landscaper to advise you on specific plants and when to prune them.
Pruning is a skill that requires some basic know-how and practice for good results. You need to study the growth habit of every plant before you begin cutting away branches. The growth habit will determine the choice of which branches to remove and which ones to leave.
Try as much as possible not to mess up with the natural growth of the plant. Remove branches that are growing in strange directions such as downwards, inwards or contrary to the natural form of the plant. Also try to make clean cuts as close to the origin of the branch as possible.
Deadheading is a common technique that makes a big difference. Not only does it tidy things up, it also stops the plants putting energy into producing unwanted seeds. It is achieved by cutting the flower back below the seedpod so as to remove the forming seed.
But not everything must be pruned. Slow-growing shrubs that keep the same basic shapes such as magnolia, azaleas, witch hazel and the hardy hibiscus should generally be left alone except for removing their dead or damaged branches.