After what seemed like an endless hot and dry summer, we are finally entering our fall season.
Less grass to mow, irrigate or consume most of our outdoor management time. Now we enter into a time where shrubs and trees can begin to get their share of management. Lots of shrubs and trees are in need of some pruning and cleaning up before spring arrives. The big question for many homeowners and landscapers is how and when to prune our great variety of trees and shrubs of many sizes.
Because shrubs and trees vary in how they set flower buds, many should not be pruned in the fall. Start with Clemson University home and garden website for bulletins on how to manage and prune shrubs and trees: clemson.edu/extension/hgic/plants/landscape/shrubs/hgic1053.html. Bulletin 1053 will provide timing and methods to use for a large list of locally planted shrubs in our landscapes.
Contrary to numerous poor examples of pruning everything the same with large motorized shears (chainsaws on a stick), there is little plant science associated with this method. The only certain thing accomplished is the method is quick. Though it works well for some shrubs, many landscape shrubs and small trees are not suited to the shearing effect used in this method.
Plant growth habit can be destroyed by constant shearing methods that is an excessive level of "heading back" used to create mounding shrubs. However, regular and light shearing methods are used for small slow growing small leaf hollies and boxwoods successfully. Shearing on these should be done on tender new green leaves regularly during the growing season.
Heavy shearing methods do not often translate well to large-leaf fast-growing shrubs when low maintenance is the goal. Heavy shearing on fast-growing plants stimulates additional growth which needs attention more often. It can become a vicious circle of work.
The other method used to maintain natural shrub or tree form is "Thinning" individual shoots back to a bud or another shorter branch. Taller shoots or top shoots can be pruned with hand clippers to shorten and reduce size of shrubs, large shrubs and small trees. This works best when done several times a season with small amounts of tissue removed.
Timing of pruning is critical to managing plant growth and flowering. Blooming trees and shrubs such as dogwoods, redbuds, camellias, large-leaf hydrangea, azaleas and others already have pre-formed flower buds now that will be lost with fall and winter pruning. Prune these lightly after they bloom next spring.
Unfortunately, we have hundreds of plants with very different growth cycles, flowering cycles and in their natural state grow into many different sizes of woody plants, so before you prune check for your plants on the Pruning Shrubs bulletin listed above.
Another important item for good pruning is having good tools. Since stem and branch size vary greatly one should have several tools for pruning. A good set of hand clippers with scissor type bypass cutting edge, a set of long handled loppers and a pruning saw may be needed to handle woody tissue from less than one-half inch, up to small branches several inches in diameter.
If you have questions you can stop by our office on East Cambridge Avenue or call 864-223-3264. The Abbeville Extension Office 2016 Berry, Fruit, Nut, Shrub, and Tree Sale order forms are available at clemson.edu/extension/abbeville/index.html or at the Abbeville, Greenwood and McCormick extension offices.
James Hodges is a Clemson Extension agent in Greenwood County. He can be reached at 864-223-3264.