I have to admit it – I love pruning. There is something really great about the sound of my pruners clipping through the branches of plants that I’ve been growing all year. After a long season of spacing, watering, fertilizing, deadheading and primping our shrubs to keep them salable, it gives me a weird glee to whack them back down to size. For nursery stock, this is an essential part of keeping plants healthy and looking good, with top-growth in the right proportion to the roots. It’s a little different with plants in the garden.
Novice gardeners often ask why pruning is important at all? They look at the trees and shrubs in nature and figure they do just fine without pruning of any kind. Why put in the work? That’s a fair enough question. The thing is, we expect a lot from the ornamental plants we grow in our yards and gardens. We want them to look good and last a long time. We want shade, but not too much shade. We want them to fill their allotted space, but not overgrow it. They need to be dense and flower profusely. Plants in nature don’t have to live up to such high expectations.
If you think about a deciduous forest, under story shrubs are spindly and gawky, reaching up for as much light as they can get under the wide canopy of trees. When a tree falls, light shines onto the forest floor and those spindly shoots take off, spreading up and out. Shrubs that grow in meadows or at the edge of forests or wetlands, where sun is more available, tend to grow in tight-knit communities where they crowd each other, never achieving a balanced form. As gardeners, we get to decide the spacing for our plants, giving them enough light and space to achieve the form we want. We can plant them densely, as hedges, or further apart to allow them to grow into the shape their genetics want them to be.
Of course, ample water and nutrition are very important. But good pruning can help a great deal to keep plants looking good and behaving the way we want them to behave. With proper pruning, shrubs can be kept healthy and dense, with good form and produce the maximum show of flowers year after year.
We have lots of pruning resources on the website. If you have questions, try using the search function in the top right hand corner of our website to find videos and written material that answers common questions.