Pruning Tips

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Here at Gertens, we have some quality tips for pruning early spring flowering plants, pruning fruit bearing trees, pruning roses, pruning long flowering plants, and more. Here are our recommendations on pruning various plants throughout the year.

Fall through early spring is the time for pruning most trees and shrubs.
Depending upon the plant being pruned and the reason for pruning, the timing will vary. Early spring is the best time to remove dead branches in all species, whereas the time for pruning for shape and structure varies by species (see Pruning Season for Common Plant Materials). Pruning for shape and structure includes: shaping and thinning hedges, thinning rose canes, removing wayward branches, and removing branches that rub, cross, or form weak unions. Pruning for structure can be exceptionally important when trees are young to prevent damage to the tree as it matures.

Corona Loppers
Ensure you get the job done by using the appropriate tool - this Corona lopper is meant for small to medium branches.

Remember, for most species removal of more than one third of the wood will cause the plant to become stressed and should be avoided. There are exceptions to this rule such as Spirea, which can be cut to the ground every few years to renew growth.

Be sure you choose the correct tools for the pruning job.

For twigs and small branches (up to 1" in diameter) use sharp pruning shears. For most applications by-pass pruners are the best choice since they will not crush the wood during cutting. Medium branches, those under 2.5" in diameter require a good set of loppers for the best results. Larger branches require saws to achieve clean, easy healing cuts. Hand pruning saws allow easy access to tight areas and work well on branches up to approximately 5" in diameter with the exact diameter easily cut being determined by the size of the saw being used.

Winter pruning refers to pruning during February and early March while plants are dormant.

This is the best time for much of the corrective pruning done in trees, especially those susceptible to disease. Remember to sterilize your equipment between cuts when pruning species prone to disease and plants known to be diseased to prevent the spread of infection.

Prune most early spring flowering plants.....

Such as lilacs and rhododendrons, after flowering to prevent the removal of the flower buds. Prune these plants as soon after flowering as possible to prevent stress from pruning during the warmest portion of the growing season. Removal of dead wood only from these plants before flowering will improve the appearance of the plant.

Pruning fruit bearing trees and shrubs enhances fruiting.

In shrubs, this involves the removal of older, weak fruiting wood. For raspberries, remove approximately one third of the oldest canes (3 or more years old). Blueberries respond best to the removal of branches over approximately six years old. Trees need to have the young, fruit bearing, branches thinned to increase fruit size and reduce premature fruit drop.

Roses and other long flowering plants are pruned throughout the growing season....

to remove dead flowers and encourage additional bloom. However, in the month prior to winter dormancy, this pruning should be discontinued in species which are not listed for fall pruning. Roses must have time to seal pruning wounds before winter and should not be encourage to set additional flowers in the fall. After frost, mulch shrub roses with straw or leaves for winter protection. This protection is most important during the first few seasons as the plants become established.

Winter hybrid tea and florabunda roses using rose cones or by tipping.

If rose cones are chosen, care must be taken to prevent heat from building up inside the cone on warm winter days. Select cones with removable tops and/or ventilation holes if possible, or cut the tops out in fall and weight them with rocks for easy removal on warm days in February and early March. Before covering or tipping roses use a dormant spray such as lime-sulfur spray to prevent fungal and insect damage over the winter. Pruning roses for shape and thinning is done in the spring.

Nikko Blue and All Summer Beauty Hydrangeas

(blue/pink flowering) need special attention in preparation for winter. These plants are sensitive to Minnesota winters and require extra protection to ensure flowering. Cover plants with a thick layer (at least 4 to 6 inches) of leaves or straw for insulation. Rose collars made to hold winter mulches work well in protecting these plants. Bind the stems with twine, place collar around the plant and fill with mulch. It is important not to prune the plants before covering in this area since they flower on mature wood.

Late fall is also the time to utilize dormant sprays on trees.

Wrap young trees from the ground up to ward off the cold, as well as a deterrent for pests.
Dormant oils and scalacides are used to treat scale and other insects which winter above ground in trees and shrubs. Be careful to apply these products only after plants have gone dormant or damage may result. Other pests to be concerned with at this time are rodents and deer which will damage the bark of young trees and often eat the tips off small shrubs. In mid-October, wrap young trees with tree wrap from ground level bark. Tree wrap should be removed in April as the trees come out of winter dormancy. Continue to wrap young trees until the bark attains a mature "rough" appearance or on smooth barked trees until the tree has a diameter of 4-5 inches. Animal repellents provide additional protection from chewing and rubbing repellant's are most effective when applied frequently (remember to reapply after precipitation) and when two or more products are alternated to prevent the pests from adjusting to the repellant and ignoring it.
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