Monday, August 9, 2010

A Few Notes on Pruning:

     It’s summer now and your plants are probably lookin’ pretty darn good. They had a rainy spring without any bad frost and the rain has politely continued into the summer, for the most part. So they’re kickin’ butt. Maybe they need a little pruning…
     I want to address a pruning issue that is all too common: incorrect pruning of suckers. They are most often referred to as suckers, but I think technically the term is actually water sprout or epicormic shoot (yeah, who’s going to remember that?). This is a bit of growth that has just gone nuts and shot straight up out of the plant and now towers over the rest of the canopy of your shrub, or is sprouting off the trunk of a tree. It may not have many branches and the stem is probably a lighter color than the rest of the bark on your plant. This growth occurs most often when a plant has been heavily or incorrectly pruned, has been damaged (see photo, right, of a severely damaged tree that has grown suckers, this is an extreme example), is diseased or dying, and when there is a significant light increase due to the removal of nearby plants. Some plants also seem to grow suckers no matter what you do. When suckers occur they must be cut all the way back to their point of growth. They can’t just be tipped back to where they’re hidden inside the canopy! Why? Because a multitude of suckers will branch out of that severed sucker and come back with a vengeance. Then you’re up a creek, because you’ve lopped of several of the original suckers and they’ve now come back 5-fold and your plant looks so much worse than before. Take the time to remove it from the branch- or the base of the plant- where it came from. It will be a lot less hassle in the long run.
     Now, a lot of you are thinking “well I just take those hedge trimmer things and buzz ‘em all off…” I’m not going to get full-fledged onto my no shearing soapbox, but I’ll give you a preview: Okay, so you’ve sheared those few original suckers, you’ve sheared the many that came from those cuts, you’ve sheared the exponential increase from those cuts…. Now you have a super ugly plant don’t ya? You’ve got all the cuts and not a whole lot of foliage. Plus, you’ve got to shear the freakin’ thing every week or it’s hairy again. Here’s a hint: the more you prune; the more you have to prune. Making all those zillion cuts stimulates the plant to try to recover from the damage and it wakes up those epicormic buds and tells them to grow with all their might, and so they do. Then you whack ‘em back again… and again. Eventually you get this shell of growth where you’ve been cutting every time and it blocks light and air circulation to the interior of the plant which is an invitation for pest and disease. Not to mention that it’s highly unattractive. So, if you see think ‘oops, I’ve been shearing, is my plant unhealthy?’ Go outside, and pull the top branches apart and look inside. If the interior of your plant has very few or zero leaves, the answer is yes: your plant is unhealthy. You need to make a few large cuts to open the canopy to allow light and air into the middle of the shrub. Then it will look like a shrub again and not a green meatball.

Jessica Watters, GCLP           Horticulture Technician, Chattahoochee Technical College

1 comment:

  1. excellent tips, thanks for all the info you give us.