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
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.
• 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
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 www.gardenpro.net, and for