There’s an art to good pruning and to keep your garden healthy, proper pruning is essential. Here’s some helpful advice.

A gardener’s advice

There are 3 basic techniques for pruning plants:

  • Thinning 
  • Heading back
  • Shearing 

It's important to understand the difference between these techniques, because the easiest method, heading back, is seldom the best.

 

Thinning

Thinning is what you do when you follow a branch or stem back to where it sprouts, and prune it at its point of origin. With trees, this is usually where it emerges from a larger branch or the trunk. But in the case of long-limbed shrubs, such as forsythia and mahonia, most stems originate right at the ground. Spend a few minutes studying where branches originate and you will know exactly how to do this type of pruning. Always make pruning cuts at an angle to the stem to allow water to drain from the cut surface to keep it from rotting. Although thinning is often a slow and awkward way to prune, it is the best way to preserve the natural shape of any woody plant.

 

Heading Back 

Heading back is a technique that involves pruning off the tips of branches, which causes buds further down the branch to develop into new stems and flowers. This type of pruning increases the number of branches, making a plant bushier. It is used mostly for plants that bloom on stem tips, such as buddleia, rose, and most perennial vines. Deadheading, or removing the spent flowers, of annuals and perennials uses this same principle. Because heading back is easy compared to thinning, many gardeners mistakenly head back azaleas, forsythia, and hydrangea, robbing the plants of their natural beauty as well as many future flowers.

 

Shearing

Shearing is wholesale heading back, and its use should be limited to plants you wish to grow as dense hedges, for example barberry, boxwood, holly, and other shrubs that have a tight, compact form. Yet do keep in mind that just because a shrub can be sheared does not mean that this is necessary. When dwarf cultivars of shrubs are chosen, often little or no pruning of any kind is needed to keep them shapely and attractive.

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