Pruning mistakes to avoid – how to ‘correct’ them

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When gardeners are pruning a plant they are cutting foliage, branches, or trunks to make the plant more attractive and structurally stronger. Good pruning minimises damage to growing plant tissue. Bad pruning creates problems for the plant. Those who have pruned their plants inappropriately, they may be wondering how to correct pruning mistakes. 

Teo Spengler, a gardening expert at GardeningKnowHow explained: “Gardeners prune for a variety of reasons. Pruning can train a plant, keep it healthy, help it to flower or fruit, and keep the foliage or stems strong and attractive. 

“In order to help the pruning cuts heal over quickly, you have to prune at the right time and in the right way.”

Common pruning mistakes include inappropriate pruning, pruning too much, and pruning at the wrong time. Can you fix a pruning boo boo? 

“Sometimes, there is little you can do to repair the damage other than waiting for the bad “haircut” to grow out. However, in some cases, repairing bad pruning simply requires additional tree care.”

One of the first pruning mistakes is not to prune at all. This can be due to laziness or fear of ending up with a “botched pruning” job. It can lead to overgrown shrubs or trees that are too tall.

In reality, snipping the tips of branches (stubbing out) is one of the worst pruning mistakes gardeners can make. 

Pruning stimulates the plant to grow, so when gardeners snip the tip of one branch, four to six new branches take its place. This abundance of new branches happens because removing the tip of the branch also removes the dominant bud, which chemically inhibits the buds below from growing. 

When the profusion of new branches grows, the typical response is, again, to snip off the new branches – and so the vicious cycle of snipping begins.

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The expert noted that the solution to this is to prune. Teo said: “Removing old, dead, and damaged branches will correct this and stimulate the plant to produce new wood. 

“Never take out more than one-third of the canopy of a tree in a season. If an overgrown bush or tree requires more, prune another third the following year.”

Pruning at the wrong time of year is also a common mistake when it comes to pruning. The gardening pro explained: “The best time to prune varies, but it is usually in winter or early spring. That’s because many trees go dormant or stop growing in winter. 

“If you make serious seasonal pruning mistakes and prune a tree in summer or fall, you may have removed buds, flowers, or fruit.”

However, some trees are susceptible to silver leaf disease and should therefore be pruned in summer when the risk of infection is reduced.

To resolve this issue, Teo advised: “Wait until winter and prune again using thinning cuts or reduction cuts. The former takes out an entire branch at its point of origin on the trunk, while the latter cuts a branch back to a lateral branch.

Making the wrong cuts is an absolute no-no when it comes to pruning plants A proper pruning cut minimises the damage done to the tree and allows it to heal quickly. 

An improper cut, cutting too close to the trunk or cutting too far from the trunk, can cause serious damage to a tree.

The expert explained: “The ultimate in bad pruning moves is to top a tree. Reducing the size of a tree by cutting the top of its primary leader creates far more problems for the tree than it solves. 

“If you top a tree, you’ll find that it creates a variety of waterspouts or new vertical branches to replace the one removed. These compete for dominance and, as they do, compromise the structural integrity of the tree.”

To avoid this Teo recommended choosing a new leader and offering it support. The expert said: “For conifers, tape a branch from just below the pruning wound so that it stands vertically. 

“In time the branch will grow straight up naturally and serve as the leader. In deciduous trees, select one of the new leaders and cut back any competition.”

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