Pruning For a Better Garden

How do I prune my garden?

The first question to ask is whether you need to prune your plant at all. There are several situations where pruning is desirable and you should be very clear about what you are trying to achieve before grabbing the secateurs. You may be trying to limit the size of a plant that is growing too big for its position, encourage a more dense habit, increase the number of flowers for next season, repair a plant that has been damaged in a storm or renovate an old lemon tree that is not bearing much fruit. We will look at various pruning techniques below to give you a clear idea of which one you need for a given situation.

Maintenance pruning

A good general rule with flowering shrubs and trees is to prune them straight after flowering because most woody plants start a spurt of growth straight after the flowering period. If left unpruned they will simply continue to add growth onto the flowering stems and this leads to the plants becoming too leggy. As soon as the plant has finished flowering simply trim back the stems a few cm below the spent flowers. At the same time sprinkle a handful of complete slow release fertiliser around the base of the plant and water in well.

Tip pruning

This technique is used to make plants branch more so that they have a lot more flowers than if they are left unpruned. Pinch out the rapidly expanding shoot tip/s with your finger and thumb during the growing season as this stimulates the many dormant buds behind the tip to start growing. This in turn eventually leads to many more flowers when those shoots reach the flowering stage later on. The more times you tip prune through the growing season the denser your plant will become, but it is important to stop once flower buds start to form. These can be recognised as they tend to be much more chunky than the slender vegetative shoot tips.
Dead Heading flowering plants

This technique is particularly useful for long-flowering herbaceous plants like marguerite daisies and annuals such as petunias and pansies. Such plants will flower for many months if you keep dead heading them by pinching out with finger and thumb the old flowers as they wither and die. Also be sure to keep them watered and a boost from a suitable liquid feed such as Thrive ® will also help. This process not only improves the appearance of the plant greatly but also directs the energies of the plant into producing more flowers rather than fruits and seeds.

Renovation pruning

If you have inherited an old garden or simply have a straggly old shrub or tree in the garden then some very hard pruning is an option to rejuvenate it. Certain ornamental trees and shrubs can be pruned back as hard as you like without killing the plant. Examples include azalea, camellia, crepe myrtle, magnolia, bottlebrush, grevillea, melaleuca and many others (check on other species in a reputable garden book if you are in any doubt). Use sharp secateurs or pruning saw to cut the stems back to swellings on the stem that indicate dormant buds and also check that you are cutting any dead material back to healthy tissue (this can be recognised by sappy green tissue beneath the bark).

The resulting growth after renovation pruning is very vigorous and soft and will often not flower very well in the first year after such hard pruning. What it will do, however, is create a framework that should provide a nice bushy flowering plant for years to come.

Pruning tools for the garden

Your pruning task will be much easier if you have the right tools. A sturdy pair of sharp secateurs is a great all-round tool for general work. Pruning shears are ideal for light pruning jobs where the small outer shoots are being trimmed off such as in hedging work. For the big renovation pruning jobs a nice sharp pruning saw will make the job a pleasure rather than a backbreaking chore. For frequent trimming and shaping of plants, powered hedging tools make the job noisy but much quicker. Sharp pruning tools will make a world of difference to the job, and it is worth honing your tools regularly. Small sharpening stones are available from hardware shops, and are easy to use. A pouch to hang on your belt is a great way to avoid the age-old hazard of the lost secateurs.