When we, as gardeners, devote our efforts to promoting plant health and vigor, pruning seems counterintuitive. Yet cutting the growth off of a plant to encourage more growth is exactly the right approach.
Pruning plants and trees can often be an intimidating process, but it doesn’t have to be. Follow along in this episode as we spend a day with a professional pruning guru and learn some key tips to take the fear out of pruning.
Along the way, you’ll also gain a better understanding of the what, when, where, and why behind making the right cut.
Why Pruning Is So Important
We all know that it’s important to prune the plants in our landscape. But many times, the fear of not knowing how to prune prevents us from doing anything at all, and we know that’s not good either. There are 4 important reasons to prune.
Controlling size or shape – As a plant matures, pruning can help to control growth and maintain its proper shape. Throughout the life of the plant, pruning to balance growth will also influence how heavily a species will bloom, produce fruit, and set foliage.
Remove dead or diseased branches or limbs – There are a few cuts you should make to a plant regardless of the time of the year. If your plant has an area that is dead, dying, damaged, or diseased, remove that area as soon as you can. During regular pruning, these are the areas you want to remove first.
Improve structure – If an area of your plant isn’t growing as vigorously as the rest, you might think the best way to even things out is to cut the larger areas back. But in fact, that cutting will encourage new growth. Cutting the stunted area back a bit will stimulate the growth necessary to restore structural balance over time.
Stimulate new growth, flowers, or fruit – When and how you prune can play a huge role in both the quality and quantity of fruit or flowers that a plant produces.
The Pruning Guru
Pruning is both a science and an art that can take a lifetime to master. Over the years, our host and show creator, Joe Lamp’l, has written and filmed a lot of articles and videos about pruning. It’s one of his favorite gardening activities and a topic he loves to teach about.
But for this episode, Joe wanted to show what a day looks like for a person who has made pruning a full-time profession. Rick Smith is the owner of The Pruning Guru and is a certified Georgia Nurseryman and Georgia Certified Landscape Professional. Rick is a professional pruner who has built his entire business on doing nothing but pruning.
Rick and his team evaluate a homeowner’s property and determine which plants could benefit from pruning or removal. Joe and the crew followed along with Rick for a day to learn some tricks of the trade.
Rick demonstrates various pruning techniques in this episode including rejuvenation. Rejuvenation is the practice of reducing the size of a plant by half to two-thirds of its existing size. It may look drastic but it can be necessary to restore or maintain the health of a plant.
In the world of pruning and horticulture, topping trees is a huge no-no. The most common reason that people top trees is to reduce size.
But in fact, topping a tree leads to starvation. This causes the tree to send out multiple water shoots as soon as possible to replace those that had been removed. These new shoots grow rapidly on weaker attachments which increases limb breakage later in the life of the tree.
This new growth doesn’t emerge from a strong connection to the main tree. So, the very reason for removal of the tree’s limbs – the fear that it would break and fall – is now most likely what will happen.
These new water sprouts are much more likely to break off than a branch would ever be. This becomes a safety hazard for homes and other structures nearby.
Removing tree limbs from time to time is necessary, but there’s a right way and a wrong way to do it. Joe demonstrates the right way to prune a tree limb in this episode.
There is one plant that can benefit greatly from the practice of topping, and that’s indeterminate tomatoes. When your tomato plants get too tall, it could be time to tame them.
Topping tomatoes is a good way to tame unruly tomato plants that may otherwise escape their cage and take over the garden.
Knowing how to top tomatoes can keep your plants looking good and under control.
Another benefit of topping tomatoes is making new plants! Those cuttings can be rooted to make new tomato plants that you can add to your garden.
The Right Tools for the Job
As with any other gardening task, the right tool for the job is essential. Ask any gardener about their most important tools, and well-made pruners will likely be at the top of that list.
Pruners come in two basic styles.
Bypass Pruners – These work much like scissors with two sharp blades that pass by a hook. Bypass pruners are what you want to use to make a clean cut in live tissue.
Anvil Pruners – This type of pruner has a blade that lands on a plate and crushes what’s between it. Anvil pruners are best used to cut through dead wood, but you wouldn’t want to use these on live tissue as it would cause damage to the plant.
It can seem counterintuitive to cut back a lot of the growth we’ve worked so hard to achieve, but pruning is one of the most important things a gardener can do for plants.
In fact, it’s just as important as getting the right amount of sun or water for a plant. Pruning is essential for promoting new growth and maintaining the health and beauty of all the plants in your landscape.
All it takes is a little practice to give you that confidence you need to prune like the pros.
Links & Resources
*Disclosure: Some product links in this guide are affiliate links, which means we would get a commission if you purchase. However, none of the prices of these resources have been increased to compensate us. None of the items included in this list have any bearing on any compensation being an influencing factor on their inclusion here. The selection of all items featured in this post and podcast were based solely on merit and in no way influenced by any affiliate or financial incentive, or contractual relationship. At the time of this writing, Joe Lamp’l has professional relationships with the following companies who may have products included in this post and podcast: Rain Bird, Corona Tools, Milorganite, Soil3, Exmark, and Park Seed. These companies are either Brand Partners of joegardener.com and/or advertise on our website. However, we receive no additional compensation from the sales or promotion of their product through this guide. The inclusion of any products mentioned within this post is entirely independent and exclusive of any relationship.