The Three Ts of Pruning

David J. Workman
WVU Hardy County Extension Agent

Richard K. Zimmerman
WVU Eastern District Office

Almost all woody plants will benefit from pruning at some time. Each plant has its own growth habit and a different requirement for pruning. Whatever the requirement or need, there are three basic steps for successful pruning.

Tools - High quality pruning tools will serve you well. Match the job with the tool: hand pruners for branches up to 1/2 inch diameter, lopping shears for branches up to 1 1/2 inches diameter and pruning saws for branches greater than 1 1/2 inches in diameter. Use pole pruners and saws as needed. Hedge shears are used when a formal appearance is desired. Keep pruning tools sharp and properly lubricated.

Technique - Deciding what and where to cut is often difficult. First, cut out dead, diseased, and weak growth. Second, remove branches that do not fit the desired shape or crowd other desired branches. Finally, prune branches/twigs to direct new growth. Proper pruning also will enhance flower and fruit production. When proper pruning techniques are used, wounds do not require wound dressing.

Timing - Pruning schedules are dictated by the plant in question. Spring-flowering plants should be pruned after flowering. Summer flowering plants can be pruned prior to flowering, but before spring growth begins. Roses should be pruned from mid-February to early March. Boxwood, junipers, yews, Japanese and yaupon holly, and arborvitae may be pruned anytime during the growing season. Pruning of grapes should be done while the vines are dormant, preferably a short time before the sap begins to circulate in the spring. Also, most fruit tress should be pruned when dormant, preferably in early spring before new growth starts. Pruning wounds heal more quickly then.

Insufficient pruning of fruit trees may result in small fruit of poor color, low sugar content, and mediocre flavor. Overpruned trees also may produce poorly colored fruit of large size, but inferior quality.