Lee Valley Tools Gardening Newsletter
Vol. 2, Issue 1
February 2007
Selective Pruning of Ornamental Trees and Shrubs

Want to rejuvenate your long-lived woody plants? Annual selective pruning is key, since cutting a branch back to a side shoot or bud stimulates everything below that cut to grow. Ongoing elimination of less productive old wood encourages more vigorous new wood to grow. By carefully choosing the site of a cut, the gardener can control the direction of branch growth, as well as the overall plant size.

The goal is to work with the plant's natural growth habit, which proves less frustrating than working against it. Don't try to impose a compact mound shape on a plant because you need it to grow in a restricted foundation planting. Grow the right plant in the right place, then prune for its health and beauty.

Cutting Techniques
Sharp tools are the key to success because they ensure clean cuts. This is important because the edges of the wound must be smooth so that callus wood forms quickly.

Selective pruning is done with three basic tools. Small cuts are made with secateurs or single-handed shears. Larger cuts, requiring more leverage, are made with loppers, which are long-handled secateurs operated with two hands. A pruning saw is designed for large-limb removal.

If selective pruning starts early enough in a woody plant's lifetime, the secateurs and loppers will be all you'll need.

Don't Leave Stubs Behind
Whether you cut to a bud, cut to a side branch, or remove a limb from a tree, a stub is a length of wood left behind on the plant that will dry and die back into the nearest bud, secondary branch or tree trunk. It is a site for pathogens or insect pests to enter the plant and do harm. Make your pruning cuts close to the growth sites listed above, rather than randomly between them.

Cutting to a Side Branch
On larger branches, there is a series of wrinkles or some swelling at the base of the branch where it attaches. This is called the branch collar. Never cut into this collar! In other words, do not cut flush to the trunk. The growth cells that form the healing callus around the cut wound are located here. Instead, make your pruning cut just above where this swelling appears.
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