Skip to content

Oakville Real Estate Tip: How to Prune and Why?

April 9, 2009

Spring Wake-up for your Garden: Consider What You Are Going to Prune & Why. 

Let’s keep it simple.

First : Have clean — as in washed, or being sprayed with a bleach solution — secateurs, loppers, pruning saw or hedge clippers.

Second: Carry a bottle of this bleach and water with you. After every cut, or 

at least every tree, spray your utensil. You do not want to spread disease.

Third: Consider what you are going to prune and why. A tree? A hedge? A shrub? Why are you going to prune it? Is it too large? Do you want more fruit (apple) or blooms? Has it broken limbs from the winter? Has it disease?

I think gardeners should go by the motto: Do no harm.

For a hedge, look at it. Does it really need pruning? Maybe it just needs a few older branches and any broken ones removed. Some forsythias and spireas are clipped every year into a shape that they were never meant to have. They then have few blooms and we miss their graceful branches loaded with blooms and colour.

Cedars make a good hedge, if they are not near a road that has salt sprayed on it. If that is the case and you still want cedars, wrap them in burlap in the fall or one side will be brown and dead. Cedars can be pruned with hedge clippers. Keep the top narrower than the bottom. You want a wedge shape. Then the heavy snow won’t break them. Just cut off a few inches at a time.

Boxwood makes a good hedge and you can clip at it to your heart’s content. Make any shape you wish, even animal topiaries. It is very forgiving. It is used in knot gardens and in formal gardens, often to outline and protect rose 

gardens. Boxwood is an evergreen, useful all winter. Boxwood is fairly expensive when you need a lot of shrubs. Keep your clippings. If you are doing your clipping while the ground is still frozen, put them in some water or moist sand, then stick them in the ground to propagate. We have clay soil, but there is a patch of sand left over from building the house, many years ago. It is under a tree and quite perfect to use for propagating.

We usually start pruning before the buds break. People with orchards start in 

February. If you notice branches left under the trees, they are there so that the deer and hungry rabbits eat the leftovers, rather that helping themselves 

to the tree. Deer have a good reach.

Do not prune maple or birch at this time. They bleed. Think of maple syrup. It comes from drilling a hole in the tree. When you cut off a branch, it will also bleed and you will weaken the tree. Leave those until late fall.

Whether you are pruning for shape or to take out broken and diseased parts, be careful of how and what you cut. First look at any branches that got broken. Cut them back to a main branch or trunk. Where you make that cut is important. You want to make it flush with the tree or limb, just outside of the ring. Have the flat blade of your secateur against the limb or trunk. Do not leave a stub for disease to enter. You also do not want to cut into the flesh of the tree. A good clean cut will heal over by itself with no dressing applied. If you just cut off the branch right where the break was — straight across — you may get weak shoots coming there. They may be deformed and get disease easily. In certain cases they may turn out different from the parent. It is called a witch’s broom.

This is the time to look for disease. If you have members of the cherry family, look for black knot. It is hard to get rid of once you have it. You must remove the branch and cut out the knot and throw it in the garbage. Do not burn or chip it up. Keep an eye on that shrub. It is easily recognized. It is black and encircles the branch for perhaps 10-15 centimetres.

Look for cankers. They are often on the trunk or where a limb comes off. You may see sap running from the spot. Take a sharp knife and scrape it out, right into the flesh of the tree and then wash it with your bleach solution and also watch that tree.

Also, on the trunk look for a grey patch. It may be an egg mass. It is much easier to scrape it off in the spring than to contend with many worms eating your leaves later. Gray lichen is also on the bark sometimes, but it won’t bother the tree.

If you want to keep a young tree (7.5 cm or less in diameter) from getting too tall, remove the leader. That is the central branch. Before you do this find another branch further down that can be trained up to be a new leader or your top will be divided.

Any side branches should be pruned back to a node that faces outward. Never prune away more than one third of the tree or shrub.

Apple trees don’t want to have a leader they want to have an open framework of branches. This can be seen clearly as you drive through orchard country. Apples are borne on long-lived spurs. They bear for many years. It you remove the spur, you will not get an apple there next year. You even have to be careful when you are picking the apples. Pears do not require as much pruning as apples, and cherries none at all.

Most pruning is done in early spring before buds break. An exception is evergreens. They may be left until late June. In the case of mugo pine, just break the candle in two.

For flowering shrubs, it is usually after they bloom, if they bloom in the spring. If they bloom in the fall, cut them back in the spring. There are a couple to be careful of. Rhodos and lilacs are two. When they are finished blooming, carefully take your thumb and remove the faded bloom. The new buds are right there ready to grow. If you clip them off you may destroy them. There are other types of pruning. Some shrubs grow best if they are cut to the ground.

This is called stooling. Then they will produce better growth and more blooms. We like to pick red osier dogwood for Christmas arrangements. If you look at an old shrub in the wild, you will notice its stem is grey and branches seem twiggy. Cut it down and you will get nice red, straight stems. Along the canals of Holland you will see willows cut off. Then they will get straight stems which they need. Purple smoke tree, stag horn sumac, elder and weiglia, all respond to this. You will get more flowers if you do this to the butterfly bush, Annabelle hydrangea and Russian sage. Stooling also restricts the size of the shrub, but you can’t do this to all trees, some will die. Yew and hazels will respond to it.

Trees can be ‘pollarded’ to make a different shape. I have done this with an ash tree, to keep it small and a different shape. My husband always makes a remark about pitying the poor tree, as I am on a stool clipping it each year. When the tree is young and reached the height that you would like — top it in the spring. Also stake it. During the next season clip the branches back to about 15 cm. This becomes the stool at the top of the tree. It is known as a standard. They have to be cut back each year. Fuchsias, and pee gee hydrangeas are fun to work with.

There are so many kinds of roses that that would be a topic in itself. Cut out the dead wood — any cut that you make, leave a node facing outwards. Some, such as tea roses, are cut to about three to five stems and leaving about three nodes. Others are cut down. Shrubs roses just need to be thinned and have broken branches removed.


This is the time to spray woody plants with a dormant oil/lime sulfur combination to get rid of over wintering insects. Do it on a day that is at least 4 C, in the morning, and before buds break.

Tired of waiting for spring? Bring in some branches to flower in the house. Pick your branches on a warm day about six weeks before they will bloom in the garden. Make a slit in the bottom, up about 2.5 cm in four places. Place them in warm water in a tall container, someplace where it is warm — but not in the sun. If you have some floral preservative, it is good to place in the water before you arrange them. If not make your own: 2 tbsp. white vinegar, 2 tbsp. white sugar, 1/2 tsp. household beach. Mix with four cups of water. Arrange them before the blooms come out, or they may drop off.

By The Brantford Expositor (Pat Locker)

No comments yet

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: