KC Gardens

There’s a right way to prune. Here’s how to trim your way to lush, healthy plants

Proper pruning can lead to lush and beautiful plants, like this Weigela.
Proper pruning can lead to lush and beautiful plants, like this Weigela. Special to The Star

Spring conditions are around the corner after this seemingly long, cold winter. As the temperatures warm, the weekend warriors will be ready to swing into action.

And they will want to prune. The need to get out, whack away at the trees and shrubs is a primal urge.

Before you grab the pruners, follow these tips.

Pruning is the removal of plant parts to improve its health and beauty. We tend to focus on the goal of reducing its size.

While pruning does reduce the size in the short term, the long-term effect is the plant will grow just as big. It’s genetics.

Pruning is not so much about removing branches but controlling the regrowth for a beautiful plant. If a plant is meant to grow 10 feet, it will continue to fight for this height.

We can better manage the plant if we know how to direct the growth. If you remember only one concept from this column, this is the key point.

The correct pruning cut is always made at a lower bud or branch angle. Always make the cut just above a bud or at a crotch angle, as this is the point where the new growth can be directed.

Avoid making random cuts on a branch or simply removing all the growth at a random height. These types of cuts does temporarily control size but leads to aggressive regrowth and the need to prune again.

Pruning stimulates growth and when you don’t direct that growth, the plant pushes upright, sucker growth that will need to be whacked back again. Directional pruning — cutting back to a lower bud or crotch angle — allows you to channel the energy of the removed limbs to a location that helps control the size and shape of the plant.

It also keeps the plant’s natural shape, which is more attractive than a plant that has been sheared into a square, rectangle or ball. Plants that are continually sheared into shapes quickly become tired looking and need replacing.

Want to reduce the height or width of the shrub? Start by randomly tackling each branch by cutting back to a lower branch or bud along the stem. Doing this on each limb removes the height and opens up the shrub to new growth.

New growth is lusher, fuller and helps rejuvenate the plant. On many shrubs with multiple stems, another trick is to thin out or remove tall, overgrown branches from the plant.

Cutting out about a fourth of the oldest stems lets the plant send up new shoots from the base, renewing the plant and controlling size. Doing this each year, along with cutting back other limbs to a lower branch, is the easiest way to control size and growth.

I will admit that pruning in this manner may take a more time and thought than running a hedge trimmer over the plant. But the rewards of spending a few extra minutes and doing it correctly will pay off.

Dennis Patton is a horticulture agent with Kansas State University Research and Extension. Got a question for him or other university extension experts? Email them to garden.help@jocogov.org.

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