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Pruning cuts for trees and shrubs

Pruning describes the removal of plant parts to manage plant growth. Trees with branches that are well-spaced up the trunk, shrubs with thick, healthy foliage: this is the ideal we all strive for. A few minutes spent pruning is one of the best things you can do for your plants, and the returns are well worth the effort. Pruning techniques vary according to plant species, location and desired results.

The Different Types of Pruning

Pruning is not just about aesthetics. It plays a crucial role in the health, growth, and productivity of your trees and shrubs. Here are the main benefits:

Training Pruning: First few years after planting

  • This aims to establish a solid structure for young trees, guiding the growth of main branches and promoting a balanced crown.

Maintenance Pruning: Annually

  • This is regular pruning to maintain the desired shape and size. It promotes health, stimulates foliage density, optimizes light penetration, improves flowering and fruiting, and removes dead or diseased wood.

Rejuvenation Pruning: Over several seasons, as needed

  • This more drastic pruning is used to revitalize aging or neglected plants. It involves severely cutting back branches to encourage the growth of new, vigorous shoots.

Thinning or Reduction Pruning: As needed

  • This involves reducing the size of the crown by removing large branches, usually for safety, aesthetic, or tree health reasons.

Fruiting Pruning: Annually for fruit trees

  • This aims to optimize fruit production by balancing vegetative growth and fruiting in fruit trees and shrubs.

    How to prune trees and shrubs

    Pruning requires appropriate tools and precise technique. Here are some simple rules for proper pruning:

    • Cutting angle: Cut small branches diagonally at a 45º angle about 0.5 cm above the bud and run your cut in the same direction as the bud.
    • Cutting back a long branch: Use pruning shears or a saw to cut the branch at the branch crotch, where a secondary branch leads out in the same direction as the branch you are cutting, preferably horizontally or along the underside of the branch you are cutting.
    • Reshaping the central leader: The central leader is the prolongation of the trunk at the summit of a tree. If the leader has been broken, cut it back to a strong side shoot that is growing fairly vertically. Attach a stake to the new leader training it upwards. If there is more than one leader, select the strongest and most in line with the rest of the tree, and remove the others.
    • Removing a branch at the trunk: Don't cut a branch flush with the trunk. Cut it just above the branch collar. This collar is, in fact, scar growth that will quickly close the cut.
    • Removing branches 3 cm in diameter or more: Three cuts will be necessary when cutting large branches to avoid tearing the bark:
      1. Make the first cut on the underside of the branch 30 to 40 cm from the trunk, one third to one halfway through the branch.
      2. Make the second cut a few centimeters further out on the branch above the original cut. Saw until the branch brakes free.
      3. Make the final cut just beyond the branch collar. Don't leave a stub. If the branch collar is left intact, the wound will seal more effectively.

    Helpful advice

    • Use the correct tools and keep them sharp.
    • Clean tools after each use to avoid spreading disease.
    • Always wear protective eyewear.
    • Avoid pruning in the rain or if wood is wet in order to prevent disease.
    • Stop often, stand back and evaluate what you have done before you continue.
    • Leave fresh cuts alone so that they dry faster and heal naturally. Plants produce their own enzymes against rot and disease.