Pruning is an essential gardening activity. Whether you have a small balcony garden or acres of rolling lawns, you’ll need to head out into the garden armed with your pruning shears at some point in the year.
When compared to other simpler gardening tasks, pruning can seem quite technical. And depending on the plant, it often is. This leads many gardeners to make a few easily avoidable mistakes that could end up damaging their plants long term. Many plants are incredibly resilient and will bounce back without trouble, but it’s far better to avoid these mistakes and get the process right the first time than deal with a greater issue later on.
The first mistake deals with the tools used. Whether you’re pruning your herbs or a massive hedge, your tools should always be two things – clean and sharp. Gardening tools can harbour bacteria or fungi from prior use that get transferred to your plants during your next pruning session. This is a surefire way to spread disease throughout your garden, so make sure your tools are always clean before you get going.
They should also be well sharpened. When you’re anxious to get out into the garden and spend time with your plants, it’s understandable that the last thing you want to do is spend your time sharpening tools. However, blunt tools only make the task of pruning more difficult. It requires more force from you to finish, especially when it comes to dense shrubs or trees, and it is likely to damage the plant stems or branches at the same time. This prevents healthy regrowth, which is often the goal of pruning in the first place.
With tools sharpened, you should be ready to get pruning, but you need to ensure you don’t do so at the wrong time. Different plants need to be pruned at different times and may require different levels of pruning throughout the year. In spring, a light trim to promote new growth is normally the go-to, while larger cutbacks are done in autumn. Understand the needs of the specific plant you’re dealing with before you get started. Take hydrangeas as an example – some hydrangeas form flower buds at the end of the season to prepare for flowering the following year. If you cut these buds off during an autumn prune, you will have no flowers next year.
When it comes to the level of pruning done, there is always the risk of pruning too much. Pruning essentially creates open wounds on your plants. They have the ability to heal and come back stronger, but this does take quite a bit of energy. If you prune too much while the plant is growing, it can become stressed and go into survival mode – not good for healthy growth. For other plants that can be cut down to the ground without trouble, this is not really a concern, as long as it’s done at the right time.
And finally, we have the mistake of pruning without a clear goal in mind. You should always have an idea of why you’re pruning before you start, to guide you as to when to prune, how much of the plant to prune, and the technique required to get it right. This will prevent you from making avoidable mistakes in the process or taking it that little bit too far and harming the plants you are trying to help. It doesn’t have to be a tedious or difficult process if you understand your intentions.