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Tag Archive: pruning

  1. Pruning Apple Trees in Spring

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    Well-pruned apple trees look better and produce fruit more reliably in fall.

    An unpruned apple tree is a snarly-branched, puny-fruited thing.  One of the best ways to keep that from happening to your apple trees is to give them an annual late-winter pruning.

    Fortunately, backyard apple trees don’t need the complicated pruning regimens followed by commercial orchards.  A couple of hours of pruning per year can keep your trees looking good and producing reliably – even if some of their fruits are not as big or blemish-free as the ones at the supermarket.

    Your task will be especially easy if your apple tree has received some pruning in the past, and has a balanced “framework” of several main, spreading branches.

    Pruning Apple Trees

    Selective pruning of older or crowded side-branches in late winter will keep trees productive.

    Apple trees bear their fruits on stubby shoots (called spurs).  These are produced most heavily on relatively young, vigorous, unshaded side-branches.  Selective pruning of older or crowded side-branches in late winter will leave your trees with a relatively large proportion of fruit-bearing wood, which is a good thing if you want a bumper crop of apples.  Late-winter pruning also exposes your apple trees to relatively few pests and diseases, compared to pruning done in summer.

    Start your tree’s winter pruning tune-up by removing dead, diseased, and broken branches.  Cut well below any wood that is cankered, oozing, or otherwise showing signs of disease.  Remove all cuttings from the area to prevent disease transmission.

    Prune vertical water sprouts – the vigorous shoots that often originate near old pruning cuts.

    In most cases, prune the entire side-branch, cutting just above the collar that surrounds its base.

    Next, prune out water sprouts – the vigorous, vertical shoots that often originate near old pruning cuts or at the base of the trunk.  Unlike “normal” growth, these can be pruned flush with their parent branch, as close as possible without damaging the bark.  (If possible, check again in late spring for new water sprouts, and pluck them out by hand while they’re still young, small, and supple.)

    Prune large branches just above the collar that surround the base.

    Continue by pruning out crowded growth.  Choose between competing branches by comparing their positioning and potential fruitfulness.  For example, branches that grow horizontally (rather than at an angle), that balance well with their neighboring branches, or that have numerous fruiting spurs should remain, if possible.  Wayward growth – such as branches that impinge on paths – is also fair game for removal.
    Finally, look for any remaining side-branches that have little or no spur growth, indicating low productivity.  These can go, as long as their removal does not mar the look or balance of the tree.

    Renewal Pruning Older Apple Trees

    Well-pruned apple trees look tidy and are better able to set good fruit.

    Apple trees that have returned to their natural, snarly state require more extensive pruning, which may include the main framework as well as side branches.  Start as above, by removing dead, diseased, and broken side-branches, congested growth, and water sprouts.  Then prune larger branches as necessary to balance the tree’s framework and reduce its size (if desired).  This extensive pruning will trigger a major outbreak of water sprouts, which should be removed in late spring (by the hand-pulling method) or summer.

    Whatever the amount of renovation required, try not to remove more than a third of the tree’s growth at a time.  Especially snarly trees may require a multi-year restoration effort.
    To help your freshly pruned apple tree’s growing season get off to a good start, mulch around its base with an inch of Fafard@ Premium Topsoil in spring, after the surface of the soil has warmed.  Fertilizer is not necessary, particularly for heavily pruned trees, which will respond to their feeding by producing an even greater abundance of water sprouts.

  2. Pruning Hydrangeas

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    Prune mophead bigleaf hydrangeas in summer just after blooming.

    Timing and method are essential when it comes to pruning hydrangeas, and they differ depending on the species being pruned. If done improperly, you may prune off next year’s flower buds or cause your shrubs undue stress. On the other hand, making the right cuts at the right time will help keep them looking great and flowering to perfection.

    Good Pruning Technique

    The right techniques and tools are key to good pruning. Here are the basics.

    The Best Pruning Tools

    Choose sharp loppers, hand pruners, and hand saws for easy pruning.

    For small branch cuts (up to 1 cm thickness), choose a quality set of sharp bypass pruners (avoid anvil pruners, which dull quickly). Bypass pruners are easy to sharpen and long-lasting, if you choose a high-performing brand (I like Felcos). For larger branches (up to 4.5 cm thickness), choose sharp bypass loppers. More powerful pruning tools may be needed for large panicle hydrangeas that become tree-like. For larger cuts, opt for a small, sharp pull-stroke pruning saw to cut through tough branches in no time!

    How to Prune

    Making the right cuts to branches will facilitate good plant health. Cuts to small branches should be made 2/3 cm from the adjacent stem. Make them at 45-degree angles. Larger branches should be cut flush to the trunk collar. The collar is the ripple of bark that will slowly and protectively grow over the cut. Cuts made above the collar will not heal properly, leaving plants vulnerable to pests and disease.

    How Much to Prune

    Make 45-degree-angle cuts 2/3 cm from the adjacent stem. Don’t damage lower buds!

    Prune to the desired height, but beware of over-pruning. Refrain from pruning over 1/3 of the top growth, especially in smaller shrubs with well-branched woody top growth. Some species, such as smooth hydrangea (Hydrangea arborescens), are clump-forming with stems that can be harshly pruned back if the clumps are well established and have become overgrown. Others, like panicle hydrangea (Hydrangea paniculata), can become tree-like and require more selective pruning.

    When to Prune

    Hydrangea pruning time is species-specific. Follow the following guide for the top four garden hydrangeas.

    Pruning Bigleaf Hydrangeas

    Mopheads have a rounder more formal growth habit.

    Latin Name: Hydrangea macrophylla
    Best Time to Prune: These hydrangeas bloom on second-year wood, so the best time to prune is in midsummer, just after they bloom. If you prune in later summer or fall, you will cut off next year’s flower heads. Deadwood is common, especially in spring. Dead or dying stems can be removed at any time of year. Old blooms can also be removed at any time, as long as you just remove the flowers and not the buds that have developed below them.

    Pruning bigleaf hydrangea in fall will remove next year’s flower buds causing irregular flowering the following year.

    How to Prune: These hydrangeas can grow too large or develop ungainly stems that have grown too high — shape plants by cutting wayward or old stems to the ground. Stems can also be trimmed to the desired height, depending on the density of the overall shrub. Refrain from shearing bigleaf hydrangeas if you want to maintain a more naturalistic, appealing appearance.
    Comments: Bigleaf hydrangeas can have either lacecap (Hydrangea macrophylla var. normalis) or mophead flower clusters. Lacecaps have a looser more naturalistic horizontal growth habit and should be pruned less formally. Mopheads tend to have a rounder habit better suited to uniform pruning. In northern zones above USDA Hardiness Zone 6, these shrubs may die to the ground, so they will never flower. Protecting the crowns with Fafard Premium Natural and Organic Compost and straw can help protect their flowering stems from the winter cold.

    Lacecaps have a more naturalistic habit and require selective pruning.

    Pruning Oakleaf Hydrangeas

    Standard oakleaf hydrangeas are tall, broad shrubs.

    Latin Name: Hydrangea quercifolia
    Best Time to Prune: Oakleaf hydrangeas also bloom on second-year wood and should be pruned just after blooming in midsummer. Once shrubs have leafed out in spring, identify and remove any dead wood from the previous year.
    How to Prune: Some compact oakleaf hydrangeas have rounder, tidier habits but most reach 8-feet in height and develop a broad, naturalistic habit. Remove overgrown or crossing branches. If they overgrow an area, shrubs can be hard-pruned back by half in midsummer. Just be sure to leave plenty of green leafy branches for strong growth, and keep newly pruned shrubs irrigated through dry summer days to encourage new growth and bud set.
    Comments: The pretty flower panicles of oakleaf hydrangea dry nicely and look good in winter gardens. Remove the old blooms in late winter to keep shrubs looking fresh in spring.

    Keep the dry flowerheads of oakleaf hydrangea on plants for winter interest.

    Pruning Panicle Hydrangeas

    Panicle hydrangeas are hardy and best pruned in late winter or early spring.

    Latin Name: Hydrangea paniculata
    Best Time to Prune: These tall, hardy hydrangeas bloom on new wood, so the best time to prune is in late winter or early spring. Remove ungainly or crossing branches and dead wood at this time. Refrain from summer pruning, and avoid removing more than 1/3 of the top growth at pruning time.
    How to Prune: Panicle hydrangeas are variable shrubs that tend to be tall (8-15 feet) and bushy or tree-like, but some cultivars are compact for small-space gardens. Selectively prune bushy varieties, cutting tall branches to the trunk or base of the plant. Cut the large branches of tree-like varieties to the trunk, making sure cuts are flush to the collar.
    Comments: These shrubs revive quickly from pruning. Tree-form plants may develop suckers from the base of the trunk. Keep these pruned off to maintain a single trunk. The dry blooms of panicle hydrangea also look good through winter but should be removed in spring.

    Pruning Smooth Hydrangea

    Large-headed smooth hydrangeas, like Incrediball™, should be pruned to 1/3 height in late winter. (Image thanks to Proven Winners)

    Latin Name: Hydrangea arborescens
    Best Time to Prune: These easy-to-grow hydrangeas also bloom on new wood and are best pruned in late winter or early spring. They respond well to harsh pruning and can even be pruned to the ground if they outgrow a space. By late spring, they will have grown back with vigor. Refrain from summer pruning.
    How to Prune: Pruned these bushy shrubs uniformly to keep their habit rounded. Large-headed varieties, like Incrediball™, are top-heavy and appreciate regular pruning to 1/3 height to keep stems shorter and sturdier. Refrain from pruning large-headed varieties to the ground.
    Comments: The bushy dry flower heads look great in winter but should be removed by spring. These hydrangea root very easily from cuttings. Take any pruned branches, dip them in rooting hormone, stick them in the ground, and keep them evenly moist. They will root in no time!

  3. Fall Garden Cleanup

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    By mid-fall, garden beds need to be cleaned and last season’s annuals cut back.

    Putting your garden to bed will result in a prettier, healthier garden from fall to spring. It’s essential to know what areas to clean, what to prune, what to leave undisturbed, and what to protect. Simply taking a leaf blower to your beds and landscape is a start, but there’s more to the process if you want to do it right.

    Clean Beds

    A waning perennial garden before the first frost.

    When cleaning your garden beds, consider bed appearance as well as plant appearance and health. This means determining what should be cut back and cleaned and what should be left alone until spring.

    Begin by cleaning out loose-leaf material by hand or blower with a focus on the most visually conspicuous areas. Smart gardeners are wise to leave some leaf litter in beds to provide added winter protection for more tender plants and help support overwintering pollinators. (Some species of overwintering native bees and butterflies use undisturbed leaf litter as essential winter habitat. Click here to learn more.) After clearing away unwanted leaves, give your fading garden plants needed attention.

    Dead or dying annuals are the first thing to cut back or pull. If some have mature seed heads, consider scattering their seeds in hopes of getting a few extra seedlings in spring. Once annuals are removed and beds smoothed, start work on your perennials and shrubs.

    Many perennials look great over winter and their crowns are protected by leaving the top growth intact. Leave all healthy evergreen perennials, such as lavender and sage, alone. Most ornamental grasses, coneflowers, asters, and black-eyed-Susans can also remain up until late winter. Some of these perennials, such as grasses, coneflowers, and asters, produce seed heads that naturally feed overwintering songbirds. Hardy perennials that die to the ground, such as daylilies, hardy geraniums, hostas, Shasta daisies, and salvias should be cut all the way back to keep gardens looking tidy.

    Edge and Cover Beds

    Edge and provide some cover while leaving attractive perennials up for winter.

    After cleaning beds, cut fresh bed edges (Click here for a how-to video about edging.), and apply mulch. Lots of mulches will work, but dark, earthy leaf mulch is landscape gold. Not only does it look good, but it breaks down quickly to naturally feed soil, and it is easy to create from yard leaves. [Click here to learn how to turn your fall leaves into mulch.] Screened, partially composted bark mulch is another good option for broadcast mulching. For small garden spaces, Fafard Premium Natural & Organic Compost can be applied as a high-quality, fortifying mulch.

    When mulching, work around perennials and shrubs. Many plants will die or perform poorly if their crowns and trunks are thickly layered with mulch. Succulents, alpines, rock garden plants, hosta, and heuchera should never have heavy mulch applied on or around their crowns.

    Fall Pruning

    Use clean shears and wear gloves when pruning in autumn

    In fall, start by cutting back any dead, unhealthy, or crossing branches from trees and small shrubs. When pruning out dead, diseased, or infested wood, prune just below the point where growth is still fresh and healthy. If you think that a plant you are pruning is diseased, be sure to clean your pruning shears in a 10% bleach solution before pruning another plant. If additional pruning of flowering trees and shrubs is needed to shape the plants, first determine whether your shrubs bloom on old or new wood. It is okay to prune new-wood bloomers in fall but not old-wood bloomers.

    French lilacs (Syringa vulgaris), azaleas and rhododendrons (Rhododendron spp.), forsythia, most viburnum, serviceberries (Amelanchier spp.), and some hydrangeas, such as oakleaf hydrangea (Hydrangea quercifolia), all bloom on old wood—meaning they set their flower buds for the next year shortly after they bloom. These plants should never be pruned in fall unless you want to cut off next year’s flowers. Old- or second-year wood bloomers are best pruned right after they flower. Butterflybush (Buddleja davidii), crepe myrtle (Lagerstroemia indica), and some hydrangeas, such as wild hydrangea (Hydrangea arborescens), bloom on new wood, so fall pruning is an option.

    Pruning techniques vary from plant to plant. As a general rule, shrubs that bloom on new wood are forgiving and can be hard pruned, or cut back nearly to the ground. In fact, hard pruning is recommended for more aggressive shrubs, like Buddleja.

    Toss it or Compost It?

    Bed cleaning creates lots of waste. Some of the waste is perfect for composting and some is best discarded. Loose leaf matter makes great compost. Fall grass clippings and leftover edging pieces can also be thrown into the compost heap. Old perennial and annual waste can also be composted, if it appears to be clean and disease free. Healthy woody branches can also be chipped and added to the bin. Any material thought to have pests or disease should be thrown away. This is especially the case for vegetable waste, such as last-season’s tomatoes, which commonly develop early and late blights. Rose clippings should also be kept far away from the bin because of the many diseases they can harbor. [Click here to learn more about rose diseases and pests.]

    Clean, coiffed beds with crisp edges look great and will make spring prep a breeze. They will also make it easier to plan and implement fall bulb plantings and decorate for the winter holidays.

    Saccharum ravennae JaKMPM
    Grasses, such as this Ravennagrass (Saccharum ravennae) can be left up into winter.

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