As you do a bit of spring cleaning in your house, don’t forget to do the same to your yard! Pruning is one way to help tidy up your landscape while improving the health of your trees and shrubs. It’s often an overlooked job, and some people might be a bit nervous about doing it on their own. But it really is quite simple, and a little work can go a long way. Just remember to work slowly and to take a step back once in a while to make sure you’re not going overboard.
Why Do You Need to Prune?
Pruning is all about trying to give direction to how your plant grows. In general, proper pruning encourages new growth. If a plant limb is injured or isn’t producing blossoms, then you should trim back that limb to redirect the plant’s energy to the more productive parts, ultimately leading to a fuller, healthier plant. Pruning gives you some control over the size and shape of how young plants will grow, giving your landscape a more uniform look. Plus, now that you and your kids are spending more time at home and in your yard, it’s essential to remove any branches that might turn out to be hazardous.
Though proper pruning promotes healthy growth, incorrect pruning can do the opposite. Step one is to make sure you are using clean and sharp pruning tools to avoid disease and rot.
- Scissors: A sharp pair of scissors can work well to trim flowers, leaves, and tender stems.
- Pruning Shears: Use these with small branches, up to 3/4 of an inch thick, as well as leaves, twigs, and flowers.
- Loppers: For trimming branches up to 2 1/2 inches thick, use loppers, which have longer handles than shears, letting you reach a bit higher.
- Pruning Saw: When pruning any branches more than 2 1/2 to 3 inches thick, use a pruning saw. For any larger branches, call a professional arborist.
What Plants Should You Prune in Spring?
Different plants require pruning in different seasons. Here are some that need attention in the spring.
- Ornamental Grasses: Cut back the dead foliage grasses, leaving two to four inches of the plant. For longer grasses, tie in a bundle at the top then cut to make it easier. Though you can cut them back in the fall, leaving them until spring adds winter interest to your yard and attracts birds.
- Herbaceous Perennials: Other plants left in your yard for winter interest, like black-eyed Susan's, coneflowers, and sedums, can all be cut back in spring. Now is the time to remove all brown, dead foliage to make way for fresh green growth.
- Woody Perennial Herbs: For woody herbs like thyme, rosemary, and lavender, when you see new growth at the base or on lower stems, cut back one-third of the plant.
- Shrubs: For shrubs that bloom in spring, like lilacs, prune immediately after blooming. For those that bloom later in the year or that have lush foliage rather than flowers, prune in winter or early spring. Prune shrubs to maintain their shape, starting from the bottom branches and working your way up.
- Trees: Prune any damaged, diseased, or dead branches on trees. After that, thin out the canopy, and cut back any suckers on the trunk below and on the main branches. Most trees can be pruned in the spring, but to reduce the chance of disease, prune oak and elm trees in the winter only.