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  • Writer's pictureTom Cavan

PRUNING THE EXCEPTIONS TO THE RULES : plants reveal the truth

Updated: Apr 17, 2022

So as I recommended in the 1st pruning blog was remove dead wood, weak and inside crossing branches and you are done basic pruning maintenence. BUT with all things in life there are exceptions to the rules, fruit bearing trees and shrubs, evergreens, broadleafs, hedging, top-grafted plants and plants in the wrong location who's habit needs to be contained (probably the most requested and disconcerning problem facing gardeners) I will create a blog for each catagory but 1st you must pay attention.

To empower you and your pruners its time for a basic plant biology lesson:

All plants have a common life link to our energy source the sun. It is called Apical dominance, wait, what? Apical dominance (tips of branches at the top and onwards down) in a nutshell are the parts of the plant closest to the sun (top) are the strongest and most important part of the plant. So why do so many gardeners both professional and amateur remove these essential parts? Too many unrational reasons to record. When you walk up to any plant in spring just as the new buds are about to open look at the size of the buds at the top, sides and bottom, you will see exactly what I am referring to. The buds at the top are larger starting at the top and as you trace downwards along the sides to the bottom you will recognize where the potential energy lies within.

Here is a sample of what I am talking about, this is a 7 year old Preston Lilac approx. 9' ht and its the 1st week of April and the top buds are swollen and about to break open, as look down to the bottom left you will see smaller buds many still a couple of days away from green sheath and opening. You will notice how open I keep the lilac in order for sun and air to reach down into the shrub to prevent mildew and pests. 2 weeks after it blooms I will take out dead wood, inside crossing branches so as to not interrupt its inherent life cycle. Post flowering pruning will be yet another blog as I walk you trhough the season.

Ok so here is what happens when you remove the esscence of the plant, it will be stunted and confused, it will try to send that energy somewhere and that is to the weaker parts of the plant or force old nodes (latent buds) on old stems to reissue growth from the inside. Now if you read the previous blog on pruning that is exactly what I told you to remove. Now what will you do? just kidding keep reading......

Ok next important thing to know for the secrets to success is this:

Pruning is determined by the vigour of the plant (no matter the name) the more vigorous the plant the more you can prune (remove) but not by carving the top. Do it by removing dead wood, undesiarable weak and crossing inside branches then look at how much live wood was removed (% of factory) Then in order to shape or reduce in size remove anything that can grow towards the plant and keep all wood directed away from its centre. Then if you have to reduce the height my analogy is for every year it takes to go up, then its every year to take it back down. So you would remove whole branches by thinning, not carving. When in doubt you can take picture's and send them to me so I can direct you down the garden path. Remember you can always take more out next season but you cannot tape them back on once you've made the cut!!

Next Blog will be plants you prune in spring: hint Hydrangeas

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