Pruning woody plants was never intended to be all about size control of overgrown shrubs and trees, but most of what occurs each season is predominantly for size control. Because we have numerous species and cultivars of woody plants available that are planted for their foliage, form, size or flowers. We must adjust our pruning methods if we are to maintain and maximize these ornamental traits.
Not all shrubs and trees can be pruned in the winter without reducing the number of flowers the next spring. If techniques are not all about size controls, time of pruning must be plant species or cultivar specific to enhance or preserve the many different ornamental values. Some plants such as most azaleas and forsythia flower in spring on flower buds produced at the end of the last growing season and winter pruning of stems can remove them.
Others such as crape myrtle and gardenia flower in summer and will produce flowers on new growth that is produced in the spring so they can be winter pruned. Clemson HGIC Bulletins, Pruning Shrubs 1053 and Pruning Trees 1003 provide large lists and more specific pruning techniques for the many woody ornamentals. Bulletins above can be found at Clemson University’s HGIC website, clemson.edu/extension/hgic/complete_list.html.
Plant overgrowth is often made worse by landscape management that supplies more water and nutrients than plants need. This leads to excessive growth and often more insect and disease problems. It is trendy in landscape science to speak of “Sustainable Landscapes.” Often the homeowner or business is, “Sustaining a plant cycle of: “Fertilize, Water, Prune Landscape Management Plan” which is a continuous circle each year that may not maximize value and certainly is more costly.
The art and science of selection and plant management starts with an understanding of how to manage and maintain each type of woody plant. Installing excess plants for a given space is a common mistake when new landscapes are created or additions are made. This is especially true when small planting stock is used.
Overplanting invariably leads to a vicious cycle of pruning to maintain individual plant integrity in shrub groups. This leads to continuous pruning and often the development of green meatballs in home foundation plantings where size control eliminates much flowering and foliar interest from the original plants. Overgrown plantings suffered terribly this past summer during our drought and very hot weather. Many plants suffered partial dieback or death.
Techniques to reduce overcrowding, such as digging up part of the plants, are seldom used because most people rarely want to sacrifice a plant they bought and planted. This makes it very important to have a good knowledge of new woody plants you purchase. Before you purchase understand where to plant them and what their sun, shade and space requirement will be at a mature size. Your new plantings should look skimpy in the first couple of years unless you plant nearly mature size plants.
Program on selection, management of landscape
The Extension Office will host the program “Selection and Management of Landscape Plants that Minimize Insect, Disease and Other Problems” 9:30-11:45 a.m. Feb. 2.
The program will provide information on an integrated management approach to improve health, recognize and minimize problems to minimize pesticide use for trees and shrubs. Space is limited.
For information, visit the Extension Office at 105 N. University St. or call 864-223-3264.
James Hodges is a Clemson Extension agent in Greenwood County. He can be reached at 864-223-3264.