Pruning involves the selective removal of a branches from a tree or plant to improve its health and shape, encouraging it to grow, flower and fruit. Many gardeners find pruning baffling, so here's an overview by David Hall of a subject that can get over complicated.
Pruning includes jobs as large as cutting off tree limbs to deadheading flowers, some plants will thrive with only limited pruning while others need hard pruning. All we are doing is accelerating a natural process.
When pruning we also have to bear in mind that the result needs to be attractive, i.e. the gardener needs to balance appearance with keeping the plant vigorous.
Shrubs need to be a well balanced and shaped, with sturdy new shoots replacing old ones.
Understanding flowering and growth
Although initial pruning may be little more than cosmetic, eliminating crossing or weak shoots, before starting serious pruning you need to understand the plant's flowering habit and growth pattern.
Naturally you are reluctant to remove healthy growth, however in the long term most trees will benefit from early training and pruning to create a strong framework of branches, especially if they are grown formally.
Disease and pests usually see their chance to strike when a plant is in poor condition, so it's important to prune out all damaged, dead and diseased wood, the '3 D's' as the RHS book calls them.
Cut back to healthy wood, preferably a growth bud, from where replacement shoots can grow.
Weak growth, hard prune, strong growth, light prune
Clearing out the centre of a tree to rid it of weak shoots is important to increase air circulation and allow healthy ones to develop unhindered.
Awkwardly placed shoots may upset the symmetry of many shrubs and trees, these should be cut out. Sometimes plants become unbalanced due to one portion growing faster than the remainder, in this case lightly prune strong shoots but cut weak shoots back hard.
Always remember the mantra 'weak growth, hard prune, strong growth, light prune.'
As I've already mentioned, knowing fruiting and flowering characteristics is vitally important, whether it takes place on the current year's shoots or on ones that are more than a year old. This clearly governs if and how often you prune.
Knowledge of the plant's life cycle will also determine when to prune, generally pruning should allow the maximum growing period to produce flowering shoots or growth that will flower during the following season.
Once you understand the importance of pruning and why it is vital for healthy growth, you can go on to discover its intricacies, and that might take a lifetime!
If you're interested in carrying out your own Autumn pruning then you can visit our plant care products page.