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Wednesday, July 16, 2008 02:32 pm

A little pruning goes a long way

Many plants require regular maintenance to flourish

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The word “pruning” actually means “to cut in layers” — something to keep in mind when you start whacking away at your shrubbery. “We prune to make selective cuts, to maintain the natural form of a plant by preventing overgrowth, rubbing branches, and to direct future growth,” says Richard Hentschel, a horticulture specialist with the University of Illinois Extension. “Overgrown plants become straggly, no longer accenting the landscape and our homes.
“Rather than just cutting the limb off to get it out of the way, cuts should be made to remove the branches without leaving a stub or disfiguring the plant.”
Pruning can either promote or restrict growth. Proper pruning can create a shrub with its greatest potential for flowering and a full canopy of foliage. “Maintenance pruning is a yearly trimming to remove old, heavy wood and shaping the remaining new wood,” he says. “A little pruning every year takes a lot less time than having to go in and try to recover a plant that has not been pruned in several growing seasons. “This kind of pruning is also called renewal pruning — you renew the plant over time, never losing the bulk or flower show.”
Good examples of plants that benefit from this approach are red twig dogwood and lilacs. By removing the older branches, you promote the growth of bright red twigs on the dogwood and better flowering on the lilac. Another tip: Snip the spent blooms on the lilac back to the first leaves below the flower for a better-looking plant the rest of the summer. Rejuvenation pruning can bring back a troubled plant that is unmanageable with the use of other kinds of pruning. Once the plant has rejuvenated, you can perform renewal pruning to keep the shrub looking its best. This kind of pruning is most often done in late fall, after the plant is dormant for the winter, or in early spring, before growth resumes. Most pruning books list the best way and time to prune. To rejuvenate a suitable shrub, remove all growth, leaving about a 1 1/2-inch stem showing above the ground. “Many home gardeners get confused as to the best time to prune for fear of pruning off flower buds and, as a result, never prune at all,” Hentschel says. “Typically, if the plant blooms in the early spring, prune it soon after the bloom show is complete. That leaves the remaining season for the shrub to create blooms for next year. “If you prune too late in the year, you will be removing flower buds for the coming season. If you look at the buds on a viburnum or lilac in the fall, for example, you will see a big bud at the tip of the branch that is the flower for next year.”
For shrubs that bloom later in the spring or summer, early-spring pruning still leaves the possibility of a bloom show. Spiraeas are a good example of this type of shrub. “There are always exceptions to the rule, and you should check the pruning book to be sure of the best time to prune,” Hentschel says. If there is a need to slow down a shrub’s growth, a “summer pruning” may be in order. By removing some of the foliage that is supplying the food for the plant, next year’s growth should be reduced. Don’t get carried away — it’s possible to put your shrub into shock. “Directional pruning is another term you will see and read about in pruning books,” Hentschel says. “This technique allows the person pruning to direct the new growth from the shrub. By pruning just above the bud or smaller side branch, the new growth will occur in the direction of that bud or side branch.”

To contact the Sangamon-Menard Unit of the University of Illinois Extension, call 217-782-4617 or go to www.extension.uiuc.edu/sangamonmenard.
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