Pruning is key for training plants, maintaining plant health, restricting growth, and improving the quality of flowers, stems, foliage, and fruit. Many people believe that they can chop off a few branches as needed and call it good. In reality, pruning improperly can actually do more harm than leaving plants or trees unpruned. You must approach the task with some basic knowledge and a plan of action or you may leave your plant weakened or deformed.
When you prune a plant, start by removing any broken, dead, diseased, or otherwise problematic limbs by cutting them off at the point of origin or to a strong lateral shoot or branch. In many instances, you won’t need to do any more pruning. If this level of pruning hasn’t opened the canopy sufficiently, make a few training cuts to help keep a plant within a certain area, fill in an open space, or develop a desired shape. Avoid altering the natural shape of the plant and keep an eye on it following pruning to make sure that it continues its natural growth.
While the optimal pruning time will vary from one plant to the next, generally the best time to prune is late winter or early spring before the plant starts to grow again. Pruning at the ideal time for the plant results in the least amount of damage done to the plant. If you prune any time between late spring and early fall, you may damage the roots and stems, resulting in plant dwarfing. Pruning later in the summer can also encourage new growth which won’t have time to harden before the cold weather arrives.
The best tools for pruning are tools that keep a sharp edge and are relatively easy to sharpen and handle. Scissor action and anvil cut hand pruning shears are perfect for stems up to ½ inch in diameter while high quality lopping sheers or loppers can cut through branches two inches in diameter or thicker. Store your equipment in a dry area, and disinfect any shears and saw blades after you’ve pruned diseased plants.