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Provided our temperatures are above freezing, now is an ideal time to prune most of your landscape and orchard shrubs. Most shrubs benefit from dormant pruning… pruning done before they begin to grow in the spring. Proper pruning offers many benefits to your landscape/orchard plants; extended life span, increased flower/fruit production, enhanced appeal and a more orderly appearance. Far too often pruning is done improperly by homeowners and (sadly to say) professionals alike. While pruning is far too complicated a process to fully explain here, lets focus on a few major issues to help demystify what proper pruning of shrubs really means.
Like so many other tasks, before you start pruning know what you want to accomplish. Proper pruning (for ornamental shrubs) is the selective removal of branches in an effort to maintain the plant's natural appearance or habit of growth. Shrubs and/or trees trimmed to an artificial size or shape require more pruning than shrubs pruned to keep their natural shape. Pruning for fruit bearing plants is designed, not for appearance, but for maximum production and ease of harvest.
In order to provide proper pruning it is necessary to know a plant’s growing habits… this is what makes pruning confusing. Once you have learned a few pruning methods you will find that the whole idea of pruning is pretty simple. Three pruning methods to know are thinning, rejuvenation and shearing.
While thinning, a branch or twig is cut off at its point of origin. This may occur to the parent stem, to a lateral side branch, to a "Y" of a branch junction or at the ground level. This method of pruning results in an open plant habit and (most importantly) does not stimulate excessive new growth. Up to 1/3 of plant can be thinned without changing the plant's natural appearance or habit of growth. Plants can be maintained at a given height and spread for years by thinning. This method of pruning is done with hand pruners, not hedge shears. Thinning allows room for the growth of side branches as well as allowing for air circulation. Thin out the oldest and tallest stems first making room for fresh, young, more productive growth.
Rejuvenation pruning is a method used on overgrown suckering shrubs or shrubs that we want to proactively keep from becoming overgrown. Remember, pruning not only stimulates growth but stimulates growth from the point where the pruning takes place. To rejuvenate an overgrown shrub, branches are gradually removed all the way to the ground level. It is best to do this over a three-year or longer period, leaving the younger more vigorous branches on the plant. New shoots that develop can be cut back to various lengths by the thinning method to develop into strong branches. To keep a shrub from becoming overgrown, remove a few of the oldest branches every year to encourage fresh, new growth.
Shearing refers to cutting back a branch (or branches) randomly along the length of a stem. This is the fastest form of pruning and the method too often used by the untrained and uninformed. The effects of shearing are concentrated, vigorous growth immediately at the point of the cut. This method of pruning is frequently done with hedge shears without regard for the natural form or branching of the plants and (if done repeatedly) greatly reduces the plants life span. If every branch or twig is sheared, more growth develops than was removed by the pruning making for more pruning needed down the road. Hedges can be sheared but require regular thinning to maintain fresh inner growth and a more natural plant shape.
Your raspberries, blackberries and blueberries need proper pruning for maximum production. The various berry plants differ in their pruning needs but are alike in that their production will be greatly enhanced with proper pruning.
Blackberries produce best off of canes that are 2-4 years old. They are also very prolific and require aggressive pruning to maintain. Thin blackberry canes by one third, (to the ground) removing the oldest canes (3 yrs. or more) and any dead wood that is apparent.
Blueberries need annual pruning to increase fruit production and encourage new growth. Remove suckers at ground level and prune branches that are dead/damaged and any old branches that have lost their vigor. (5 yrs. and older)
Everbearing raspberries bear fruit on first year canes (floricanes). These raspberries can be pruned to the ground each winter. Early season raspberries bloom and fruit on old canes that grew the prior year/s (primocanes). These raspberries tend to ripen earlier than those borne on new growth. By mixing your varieties and pruning techniques you can extend your raspberry production season.
One limitation we need to be aware of is that proper pruning cannot make up for poor landscape design. When a 10’ shrub is planted in front of a 4’ window, pruning will not be the final answer. Anybody that has ever passed through a McDonald’s drive through has seen burning bushes mercilessly butchered into all sorts of shapes by “landscapers” using turbo-charged hedge shears. While this may be considered the norm by many it certainly is not proper pruning or design.
Pruning is undoubtedly the most mystifying and puzzling of tasks faced by most gardeners. I hope this information will help you better understand what proper pruning can do and why it is important. Pruning is best taught by example so for those who want to see what proper pruning looks like I encourage you to use one of our on hand gardening specialists we offer.
Now go outside and have fun in the dirt!