How To – Pruning and Trimming Bushes

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    What might seem counter productive at first, trimming and pruning your plants will help them grow and improve their overall health. Other benifits include managing the size of the plant and shaping it from a wild version into a decrative part of your landscape.

    Most of the skills we will cover can be applied to all plant types but some individual plants will need special care.

    Pruning Dead Spots
    This is something that you should take care of when it happens. Often plants like azelias and small evergreens will have a dead area that dies for no apparant reason. You will notice that the leaves of the plant turn brown and the small branches will be brittle and dry.

    You should examine the dead area to find out why it died. Look for live bugs or mites or areas that may have been damaged by rabbits or other small animals biting the plant. Is the overall health of the plant good or is it starting to die because it is not getting enough water? Address the problem first if you can with a mild pestacide to kill beatles or other bugs if needed or just water the plant well to help it through dry seasons.

    If you can remove the dead areas within the growing season the rest of the plant will fill in. Sometimes this can take a full season or maybe even two but the dead areas will never grow back and the longer you wait the longer it will take for the plant to recover.

    The best way to work with dead areas is slowly and from the outside in. You don’t want to go right into the center of the plant with a pruner and cut off main branches.

    First crush the leaves or remove the dead evergreen area. Look for any remaining life or new growth. Often smaller twigs will crush in your hand and you can tell they are dry dead wood. Working into the plant with a small hand pruner cut back until you see flexability and green on the bark and in the wood.

    Now you are left with an open hole in your bush. If it is small enough you can just brush your hands over the surface of the plant towards the hole and the neighboring branches will fill in the area. If the area is larger you can coax neighbor branches by using a natural fiber twine and pulling them from opposite sides into the open area. Do this with care and it is better to tie off with a lose knot then to force the plant.

    Once you have made the repair it will take a few months before the plant will retain the shape and fill in the thinned areas.

    Trimming Your Bushes
    Every season new growth will occur and this can be a good thing if your plants are small and beginning to fill in the areas of your yard you want them to live in.  If your plants have already matured they may begin to block views from windows, restrict pathways or infringe on other plants.

    Another reason to trim new growth is to balance the weight of branches and shape the plant. Starting as early as the second year after planting you should determining whether you want a more natural look, a shaped toperary plant or something inbetween.

    To properly manage your plants growth you need to start while it is young. Fixing problems on an adult plant can be difficult or impossible due to the way the foliage grows close to the outside of the plant.

    If you see that your plant is growing unevenly you should trim back new growth on the larger areas and allow it to grow and fill in places that are low or misshaped.

    Just like you did for dead areas you can coax branches with natural fiber twine to reshape the plant and you can install stakes and pull back the plant if it is growing awkwardly due to wind or for other reasons.

    Remember in most cases you are not trying to create a bonsai plant you are just trying to give it a little help as it grows so later in life it will be healthy.

    To determine how much new growth you should cut back remember that any bare areas won’t grow new foliage. If you go too deep you will end up with a dead plant. Pretty much the rule of thumb is you only cut the new lighter greener part but be aware of what you are doing and a hand trimmer is often better for smaller plants under 6 feet tall and 6 feet in diameter.

    Power trimmers should never be used by an inexperienced gardener. It is just too easy to cut too deep and cause damage that will take years to grow out.

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