Because pruning mystifies so many homeowners we have a few guidelines for you this season. Begin by assessing your landscape and plants’ needs. The best way to accomplish this is to step back so that you can see the whole picture while you inventory your various plants. You will be looking for too thin or too dense a plant structure, and plants that are too large for their space. Additionally, you should be looking for dead wood and cross branching, as this needs removal.
Finally, are your plants deciduous or evergreen? Fruit bearing or frost sensitive? Each requires different approaches for peak performance. Once your plants and their needs have been determined you’ll be able to utilize the proper tools. For starters, many of you already have pruning tools, but they may need sharpening, or even replacement. The primary tools you may need include shears for small tasks, loppers for cutting strength on medium-sized limbs, at least one pruning saw and, for hard to reach places, a pole pruner. Naturally, the tools you’ll need will depend on the needs of the job.
Now what? Let’s take a look at when and what to prune. Primarily, you’ll be pruning deciduous trees and shrubs through the months of December and January as these plants require dormancy for healthy pruning. Now, start to prune out dead, cross-branching and diseased wood. You also may need to prune for control or to increase fruit production. Because fruit trees require varied pruning it is our recommendation that you acquire a book on pruning, such as “Pruning, How to Guide for Gardeners” by Robert L. Stebbins and Michael MacCaskey. In this book detailed information on pruning apples to oranges is given as well as the basics.

Pruning techniques
• Twigs and small branches. When pruning twigs and small branches, always cut back to a vigorous bud or an intersecting branch. When cutting back to a bud, choose a bud that is pointing in the direction you wish the new growth to take. Be sure not to leave a stub over the bud or cut too close to the bud.
• Proper pruning angle. When cutting back to an intersecting (lateral) branch, choose a branch that forms an angle of no more than 45 degrees with the branch to be removed. Also, the branch that you cut back to should have a diameter at least half that of the branch to be removed. Make slanting cuts when removing limbs that grow upward; this prevents water from collecting in the cut and expedites healing.
• Thick, heavy branches. Large branches should be removed flush with the collar at the base of the branch, not flush with the trunk. The collar is an area of tissue that contains a chemically protective zone. In the natural decay of a dead branch, when the decay advancing downward meets the internal protected zone, an area of very strong wood meets an area of very weak wood. The branch then falls away at this point, leaving a small zone of decayed wood within the collar. The decay is stopped in the collar. This is the natural shedding process when all goes according to nature’s plan. When the collar is removed, the protective zone is removed, causing a serious trunk wound. Wood-decay fungi can then easily infect the trunk. Even if the pruned branch is living, removal of the collar at the base still causes injury to the tree.

Lastly, frost sensitive plants, such as bougainvillea, hibiscus, carissa, and lantana, to name a few, require pruning in March after the danger of frost has past. To prune early will encourage new growth that is particularly sensitive to damage. Also, if these plants do suffer frost damage, the inclination is to prune away the damaged wood at once ... DON’T! By pruning these plants while there is still danger of frost you are exposing the older wood to damage, encouraging new growth, and removing insulation that the dead wood provides. It may be unsightly, but the plant will benefit from your patience. Once danger of frost has passed, prune vines, shrubs, and ground cover as indicated by their appearance and desired outcome.
Some of the types of plants that can be pruned in January include: roses, deciduous fruit trees, grapes, native desert trees and deciduous shade trees.
Gary and Sharon Petterson own Gardener’s World and Gardener’s Eden Landscaping in Phoenix. Reach them at (602) 437-0700. For the nursery, call (602) 437-2233 or visit, and for landscaping, visit

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