Until he retired, I had the same barber for about 30 years—since his retirement; I never seem to get the same haircut twice. Fortunately as they say, the difference between a good haircut and a bad haircut is only a couple of weeks. Is the same true for pruning the garden? I don’t think so. I believe there is some art to mastery of the pruning shears.
Pruning is important to keep plants healthy and thriving. Depending on what you want to accomplish, there are a few pruning techniques you’ll need to master.
- Heading: Sometimes we want to “head” a plant in a certain direction (hence the name). This technique is also great to control plant size or keep a plant symmetrical. Remove the top growth back to a node (the place on the stem where leaves and branches emerge), without taking too much of the plant at a time. Because heading only deals with the removal of a few branches at any given time, you can do this any time of the year. This is how many people prune Forsythia.
- Renewal: Sometimes this is called thinning. The goal is to cut out the old, unproductive branches to encourage new growth. In renewal pruning, we remove the old branches and stems right down to the ground, however some gardeners cut back to lower nodes. This is how I prune my Lilacs.
- Rejuvenation: My father pruned his Clematis this way and had the most healthy and beautiful-looking vines I’ve ever seen. In rejuvenation pruning we cut all the stems to the ground. Most people use this type of pruning on old neglected shrubs that re-grow quickly. Many, like my dad, prune this way on shrubs that produce flowers on new growth, like his Clematis. This type of pruning is usually done in late winter or early spring.
- Shearing: Like my haircut, hedges are sheared, meaning the top growth is removed down to a random point. Without regard for stem re-emergence. Common hedge plants respond well to shearing. But be careful, there are some plants, like Forsythia, that don’t respond well to this technique and end up looking terrible when it’s done.
Before you start pruning, make sure you understand your goals—and make sure you have the right tool for the job. If you have questions, any of our gardeners at Western Gardens are ready to offer advice and make sure you have just what you need. Also, visit us on Facebook for daily updates and specials.