The pruning is undoubtedly one of the most important phases to keep a tree healthy. The productivity of the plant depends, to a large extent, on this operation. With the cold season approaching, and the natural cycles changing, it’s time to start thinking about taking care of fruit trees and plants in our garden. Nature has its own timing to respect, and we shouldn’t be caught unprepared.
In this article, we want to begin by discussing the management of the orchard, which is an integral part of domestic cultivation. Let’s start by emphasizing the importance of pruning as a practice and a technique.
What do we mean by pruning?
Pruning can be defined as a set of techniques used to regulate the growth of vegetation, the formation of flowers, and the development of fruits in trees, plants, and shrubs.
It primarily involves cutting branches. However, other interventions are also considered part of pruning, such as removing surplus buds, known as thinning; eliminating basal shoots, also called suckers; and defoliation, which is the thinning of excessive foliage.
Fruit trees, in general, are the plants most affected by pruning. However, it also applies to vines, roses, hedges, and ornamental trees.
Objectives and importance of pruning
In nature, plants are not pruned. Trees may suffer damage from natural agents such as wind, weather, and wildlife, but in most cases, they manage to find their natural balance.
So why do we need to prune?
There are several good reasons for pruning, especially when our plants grow under artificial conditions. Pruning is not mandatory; if you choose not to do it, you can let nature take its course. Many home gardeners skip this type of work, but they risk not getting the best results from their plants.
Let’s see the good reasons for performing regular pruning work.
Increased flower and fruit production
One of the main reasons for pruning is to improve plant productivity, both in terms of flower and fruit production.
Let’s take a good example with rose bushes. If left unpruned, they will grow in a disorderly manner. Moreover, if the plant is not pruned for many years, the flowers will become progressively weaker.
On the contrary, regular pruning, done to shape the growth of the plant and encourage the production of new shoots, ensures abundant and lush flowering over time.
Preserving plant health and preventing diseases
One of the primary objectives of pruning is to remove all dead or diseased parts. Plant health is closely related to productivity. Pruning dead or diseased parts helps maintain plants in optimal condition and promotes healthy growth. It is essential to observe and closely monitor the plant to quickly identify any potential problems and intervene promptly.
Pruning prevents branch congestion. This allows better airflow within the vegetation, thus preventing fungal diseases.
Improving the aesthetic appearance
Another significant benefit of regular pruning is the aesthetic aspect, especially for ornamental plants and shrubs like hedges. These plants require frequent interventions to fulfill their primary purpose, which is to beautify our gardens.
In extreme cases, hedges and plants are heavily shaped and pruned regularly. In topiary art, this is done to achieve a well-defined ornamental shape.
Controlling spaces and ecosystem balance
Unpruned trees and plants left to grow freely can create problems in terms of space and coexistence among different plant species. The soil in the garden or orchard is often richer than what is found in nature due to artificial fertilization. If trees and plants find fertile ground and unobstructed growth paths, without stronger neighboring plants limiting their expansion, they can literally take over. Pruning is necessary to prevent certain trees or plants from choking others and disrupting the overall balance.
Shade can also be an issue. Many shrubs that have grown excessively and occupied more space than intended need to be pruned to avoid obstructing the growth of other sun-loving plants and trees.
Another problem is with climbers that tend to grow rapidly on walls. Without pruning, they can enter gutters or cornices, causing flooding or structural damage. Pruning is necessary to keep them under control.
Different types of pruning
There are several types of pruning, which generally differ based on the timing of the operation. Another difference can be related to the growth status of the plant.
Types of pruning
- Summer: Usually, it is carried out during the months of July and August when plants are in a vegetative state due to high temperatures. It is called “green” because it is done when the plant still has leaves.
For example, a typical summer cut is the thinning of vines, known as “suckering.” This involves removing shoots that grow directly from the old wood of the mature vine, which are usually unfruitful.
- Winter: The most common and delicate type, is carried out during the winter season when plants are in a state of vegetative rest and, therefore, without leaves.
Winter is the season when most pruning work is performed.
- Nursery or training: This technique is performed on young plants, not yet in full production.
In this type of operation, one should never cut one-year-old branches, meaning those that do not have additional lateral branches. The goal is to reduce the unproductive phase of young plants as much as possible and promote their uniform development.
- Production: Done when plants are in production and have reached maturity.
This type of pruning aims to maximize fruit production while maintaining the overall balance of the tree, ensuring more consistent and better-quality fruit yields.
- Transplant: Which involves interventions on small trees about to be transplanted into the ground.
- Rejuvenation and/or corrective: performed on old and/or diseased plants. It is used to rejuvenate or save the plants, giving them a new lease of life.
- Ornamental: Performed on certain types of plants such as hedges. As already mentioned, it is used to give them the desired shape.
Basic pruning techniques
Now let’s look at some basic principles of good pruning. The topic will be discussed in detail for each specific cultivar, as different types of pruning are required for different types of operations.
In general, here are the basic rules for proper pruning.
Make a clean cut. The cut of the branch or sucker should be clean, without tearing the stem or leaving bits around the cut. To achieve this, tools must be adequately sharpened and properly maintained to prevent rust. The operator’s skill, gained through experience, is also essential.
Avoid straight cuts. This principle is particularly important when cutting tree branches. Some heavy branches, if cut straight, can fall before completing the cut, causing a tear or injury. Cuts should always be made at an angle of about 45°.
Perform the cut above a bud or node. When removing the end of a branch, the cut should be made just above the nearest bud or node where you want the new branch to grow. Especially when pruning to stimulate new growth, the clean cut should be made above a bud oriented in the direction you want the new branch to take.
Do not incline the cut toward the bud. The ideal cut is one that slants cleanly away from the bud, not toward it. This way, water will drip away from the bud, avoiding the risk of rot. The opposite cut lets water slide towards the bud.
Branches and Suckers
Avoid suckers. Suckers are those small pieces of wood or branches that protrude from a branch or shoot. Each protruding piece of wood or stem is unsightly and dies quickly. The problem is that deadwood can cause diseases.
Unnecessary branches should be removed at their base, where they intersect with other branches or the main stem.
- Texas A&M University: “Follow Proper Pruning Techniques” – This resource discusses the importance of pruning and provides a guide on how to do it properly to improve the health, landscape effect, or value of the plant.
- University of New Hampshire: “The Basics of Pruning Trees and Shrubs [fact sheet]” – This resource emphasizes that all pruning tools should be kept as sharp as possible in order to make clean cuts. Branches with clean pruning cuts are more likely to heal properly.
- University of Tennessee: “Best Management Practices for Pruning Landscape Trees” – This resource discusses two basic pruning techniques used to shape and restore plants: heading and thinning cuts.
- Purdue University: “Tree Pruning Essentials” – This resource emphasizes that proper technique is essential for recovery, health, and aesthetics when pruning trees. The first step is to identify the key components of the branch.
- University of Illinois: “Proper Pruning of Trees” – This resource provides a guide on the tools to use for pruning trees of different sizes.