Why you need to prune your plants

Published on June 4th 2019
A small bird perched on a tree branch
Pruning might seem like tough love, but it is a regular part of maintaining the health and vigour of your plants. Put simply, pruning is selectively removing specific plant parts in order for it to grow in the desired shape and size.
Pruning can look quite complicated but you don’t have to be a master gardener to make the cut!
A hand holding a flower
Before learning how and when to prune, we have to first know why it is important to prune.

Why prune?

  1. Maintain plant health
Pruning diseased, damaged or dying plant parts helps to prevent insects and other harmful organisms from entering the shrub or tree. Pruning also increases light penetration and better air ventilation in the framework of the plant, resulting in fewer disease problems and better access for pest control. Also, by removing suckers and water sprouts, pruning eliminates weaker wood and provides more food and water for the main branches.
2. Maintain desired size, shape and appearance
Pruning can restrict growth where too much growth is undesirable or stimulate growth in sparse areas. Damaged plants can be pruned back into shape and plants can be pruned to remain in proportion to the landscape. Overgrown shrubs can also be pruned to allow space for other plants to flourish.
3. Improve quality of fruiting or flowering
Pruning is very often done to accentuate ornamental features like flowers and fruits. In some species, selective pruning stimulates flowering and in others, it helps produce larger fruit. When pruning, the amount of wood is decreased and therefore more energy is diverted to the production of larger, though fewer, blooms or fruits.
A small bird perched on a tree branch
4. Train young plants
It is much easier to shape a tree when still young, rather than having to prune large, mature branches later. Pruning helps young plants develop a strong and attractive form.
5. Rejuvenate old trees and shrubs
Trees or shrubs may become unattractive as they mature. Pruning helps older plants restore and maintain their vitality and beauty. As trees or shrubs grow older, weak or narrow crotches start splitting apart, so by pruning, the chance of breaking or tearing of wood is eliminated.
6. Prevent injury or damage to self or property
Correct pruning prevents safety hazards such as low-growing branches or growth forms subject to storm damage near sidewalks, driveways or other well-travelled areas. Corrective pruning also reduces wind resistance in trees and shrubs.
A bird perched on a tree branch
Timing really is everything when it comes to pruning. While annual pruning benefits most plants, the trick lies in knowing when to prune which plants.

When to prune?

Pruning at the wrong time may produce undesirable results. The right time to prune will depend on the type of plant, the desired outcome and the severity of pruning necessary. Pruning to remove diseased, damaged or dead parts can be done at any time of the year.
Three pruning categories plants generally tend to fall into include:
  1. Many flowering and fruiting plants are best pruned during dormancy in late winter through early spring.
  2. Some spring-flowering plants start setting new buds as soon as the old flowers have fallen, so to avoid pruning off new buds, pruning needs to take place shortly after flowering.
  3. Other plants need continuous pruning and deadheading to remain healthy and in flower.

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