Does Your Plant Need a Haircut?

Pruning (a “haircut”) is done for three main reasons: safety, plant health, and aesthetics. It is also used to stimulate fruit production in some plants if done correctly..

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What does pruning do? It stimulates new growth, and if done severely enough or at the wrong time of year, it can stunt growth. 

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Trees should never be topped or whacked.

This can create a dangerous situation, and one ugly tree!

Image © Pam Pavela

Should you top your tree?  Absolutely not!!!  Many people think topping a tree will help keep the tree shorter and safer when actually the exact opposite is true. When a branch or trunk is cut (Note that most trunk pruning kills trees), the hidden buds below the cut start to grow and create lots of new branches that are usually weakly attached. These new branches will attempt to replace what was cut. Now, after several growing seasons, you have a tree that is almost the same size as before the topping, but with branches that have a greater chance of breaking off and falling.  Plus, the architecture of the tree has been permanently ruined.  If a tree is genetically determined to grow tall and skinny, it’s going to grow tall and skinny no matter how much it gets butchered.

 Pruning cuts should be made above a bud or branch that is pointing in the direction of the desired new growth.

Pruning cuts should be made above a bud or branch that is pointing in the direction of the desired new growth.

The best times to prune:

  • After a plant has finished flowering, unless it is late autumn
  • When it is dormant (Typically in winter when all leaves have fallen off)
  • Hedges can be pruned almost any time since you are forcing them to stay small with frequent pruning.

The worst times to prune:

  • Autumn.  This is when most plants want to slow down and take a snooze for the winter. If you prune them, they will push out new growth; some of which will be more sensitive to frost.
  • When nighttime temperatures get near or below freezing (unless the plant is completely dormant)
  • Before flowering (unless you don’t want flowers or fruit)
  • Exception: Some California native plants and perennials do better with autumn pruning.