Primed For Pruning

By Gretchen Westdal Centers

Tree and shrub pruning is fundamental for the health and vitality of your plants. Do you know where to begin?

Like cars, homes, machinery and even humans, we all need regular maintenance. And that goes for your trees and shrubs. It may seem as simple as breaking out the shears, clipping away and revealing a shrub-turned-intricate statue, but there’s a little more to know before getting started. 

We like to seek advice from experts, so we chatted with Earl May’s Vice President Blake Jensen, who provided all the details needed for a successful pruning plan. 

Get To Know Your Plants

Like people, each plant has its own personality, preferences and pain points. Before starting any pruning project, Jensen suggests researching the varieties of plants you own. “Many have their likes and dislikes on when or how they want to be shaped,” Jensen says. 

For example, your boxwood hedges require regular pruning to maintain their shape and density. Pruning should encourage lateral growth and prevent the hedge from becoming too sparse. Your evergreen trees or shrubs, however, only require minimal maintenance to remove dead or damaged branches. Excessive pruning can damage the plant. 

One thing all plants have in common is that they need stems or branches that have been damaged, broken or appear diseased, trimmed and removed. The experts at Earl May can help you find the proper tools and go over techniques, but it’s important to make precise cuts and prune conservatively so only the affected areas are removed. This will help prolong the life of your plants and keep them happy.

Major Mistakes

Jensen has seen a lot of mistakes over his tenure in the garden and ag industry. The biggest one is timing. “The timing of a prune can even affect the bloom cycle on specific plants such as lilac or rhododendrons that set their flower buds the season prior,” he explains. “Those should be pruned soon after the spring bloom and left alone.”  

He goes on to say that young trees should often be left alone the first year or two after planting, and then corrective pruning can be done after that. Be on the lookout for branches that overlap or rub together. The rubbing can cause openings that lead to rot or disease. By trimming and giving the branches space, you’ll prolong the life of the plant. 

Speaking of removing branches, be sure not to overdo it. Over-pruning is another major mistake that can leave your plants worse than when you started. The idea of an ornately sculpted topiary may seem appealing, but it could harm the plant more than it helps. Less is more since over-pruning can open wounds that pests can enter in through, increasing  the risk of disease. 

Trial and error will often help you figure out what your variety of trees and plants need. Suppose you’re looking to get into some serious landscaping and want to avoid issues. In that case, Jensen suggests looking into college and university extension programs that offer expert guidance on the intricacies of lawn and arbor care. You can learn about everything from edible landscaping to becoming a master gardener. 

Tools of the Trade

Whether a weekend warrior or a legitimate landscaper, proper tools are needed to get the job done safely, efficiently and effectively. Jensen recommends keeping these tools on hand to tackle pruning projects.

• A quality set of pruning shears that are sharp and clean to ensure your plants stay healthy. Pruning shears are ideal for many leafy or evergreen shrubs and perennials.
Bypass hand pruners are great for smaller tree branches or removing selective shrub or perennial stems and flowers.
• A pruning saw might seem a little intimidating for the novice, but with the proper technique, these can help cut through larger branches because of the serrated blade. 
Gloves and protective eyewear are essential to keep you safe while working in the yard. Rogue branches or plant pieces can fly off and hurt your eyes, and a pair of durable gloves ensures your hands stay protected from thorns and sharp debris. 

Early May Garden Centers offer all these plus expert advice on using the tools and which ones are best for your project or yard. 

Low Maintenance, High Impact

In today’s busy world, we can all appreciate plants that require less time to care for so we can do other things or even tend to other plants! 

Jensen shares his Earl May favorites.  

“For low maintenance and multi-season landscape appeal, a few of our favorites would be anything in the paniculata hydrangea category,” Jensen says. “Bobo, little lime punch and little quickfire are all good examples of low maintenance, high impact hydrangeas.” 

These dense bushes have fun names and yield big, fluffy, beautiful flowers that can be used to make a dinner table centerpiece or bring outside beauty indoors. 

Trees such as serviceberry, the newer no-mess flowering crab trees, birch, aspen, seedless maples, or oak all offer beautiful displays while being relatively easy to care for and maintain. Keeping the leaves and branches healthy by removing any issue spots is pretty much all the pruning care you need for those varieties.  

“For perennials that come back every year, I would encourage everyone to look at the many great options in hardy grasses, new genetics of coneflowers, garden phlox, hardy hibiscus, salvia and catmint. All of those put on quite a show with little fuss,” he concludes.

Enjoy The Pruning Process

Yard maintenance can be seen as an added chore, especially in the hot summer months. But, with a change of perspective and getting out before or after the heat, the practice can be therapeutic and even good for us. Being outside, doing physical work and tending to the yard can help keep physical and mental health in check. Practice a moment of gratitude before picking up the pruners and take in the beauty that nature has created and that we get to help tend.