Let’s make sure you understand how to properly prune the plants in your landscape beds before you start hacking away!
There are a number of things you need to know before pruning plants. We are going to cover them all, right now, for you.
Proper plant care takes time to master. If you get overwhelmed or simply would like some help, you can always contact a local landscaping company. If you are located in Northern KY, we would be more than happy to provide you with a plant pruning quote. But, after reading this article, you will be able to prune plants like a pro!
Plant Pruning Topics We’ll Cover:
What Species of Plant Are You Pruning?
First things first, you need to identify what types of plants you are pruning!
If you are not sure what types of plants you have in your landscape beds, we have a couple of tips that may help. You may have noticed, your plants don’t have name tags!
You can go about this in a couple of ways, but it starts with taking a good picture or two of every plant you will be pruning. We recommend putting the photos of the plants on a tablet so you can view them on a larger screen perhaps at your local nursery!
Speak With Your Local Landscape Nursery
Take advantage of your local plant nursery. After you snap the pics of your plants, head on up to the largest local nursery. If you are in Northern Kentucky, we recommend visiting Ammon Nursery because they have the largest selection of plant material and their prices are hard to beat too. Having the pictures on your phone would be good enough, but if you have them on a tablet it will be easier to compare them to the tagged plants at the nursery.
Feel free to ask an employee at the nursery, many of them truly are plant experts. If you aren’t comfortable doing that, walk the isles of plants until you find the plants that you have in your landscape beds. At this point, simply note the names of the plants so you can do a little research when you get home.
Maybe instead of noting the plants’ names, take a picture of the front and/or back of the plant ID tag. The tags often have more information on them such as lighting and watering requirements, along with some other information such as if the plant is sensitive to wind, when it blooms(if applicable), and possibly information about pruning the plant.
What Characteristics Do The Plants You Are Pruning Have?
There are several types of plants. Hopefully, you have been able to identify the plants in your beds, but if you were unable, it is OK.
The goal of pruning your plants is to return them to their natural shape and keep them within their designated space in the flower bed. And, most plants do require some amount of pruning to remain as healthy as they can be.
If you are unsure what plants you have, look for flower buds. One of the main things you want to avoid when pruning your plants is cutting off near-future flower buds! That would be a shame, wouldn’t it?
Annuals, Perennials, Ornamental Grasses, Shrubs, and Ornamental Trees (H3)
The plants in your beds are going to fall into one of these plant types: Annual flowers, perennial flowers, ornamental grasses, shrubs, or ornamental trees.
Pruning Annual Flowers
Pruning annuals flowers is more like deadheading spent blooms. There really isn’t any ‘pruning’ per se when it comes to annual flowers, but some will bloom more multiple times or more prolifically if you deadhead the spend blooms.
Deadheading simply means snipping off the spent blooms after the flower wilts away.
Common annual flowers include Petunias, Pansies, Begonias, Geraniums, Impatiens, but there are many more!
Most often, instead of pruning annual flowers, you will simply pull them from the beds once their growing season is over.
Pruning Perennial Flowers
Perennial flowers are the ones that return year after year. So, if you didn’t plant any annuals in your garden this year, you can be pretty confident you are dealing with a perennial flower.
Some perennial flowers will also perform better if deadheaded. The majority of perennials will need to be pruned at the end of the growing season. Landscapers refer to this type of pruning as a ‘cut-back.’ Instead of pruning hairy outliers or branches out of place, you simply cut the plant off at the base. This will allow the following year’s growth to pop through unimpeded.
Common perennial flowers include Salvia, Hostas, Lavender, Coneflowers, Daylilies, Peonies, Daisies, Phlox, Sedum (Stonecrop), and many more.
Pruning Ornamental Grasses
Ornamental grasses are different than the grass in your lawn. Ornamental grasses usually grow in clumps, get much taller than turfgrass, and do not require mowing.
The majority of ornamental grasses require 1 cutback per year which can be performed in the spring or the fall. It is really your call whether to cut them back in the spring or the fall. One thing to note is to ensure you prune them before new growth begins if you wait until the spring.
The ideal method to perform a cut-back on an ornamental grass is with a battery or gas-powered hedge trimmer. If the grass had no issues standing upright the year prior, you can cut them back to a height of 2-3″. If your grass blades were drooping, try cutting at a height of 12″ or so to give the future growth support of the old cut grass stocks.
Some common types of ornamental grasses include Blue Fescue, Mexican Feather Grass, Zebra Grass, Japanese Forest Grass, Japanese Blood Grass, Purple Fountain Grass, and there are many others.
Shrubs are the most commonly pruned plant and many shrubs should be pruned multiple times per year to keep them looking their best.
Always check for flower buds before pruning your shrubs! Often the tool of choice for pruning shrubs is going to be a battery or gas-powered hedge trimmer. This will be the most efficient and doesn’t harm most shrubs.
The idea here is to trim off the ‘hairy’ growth, if you will, and return the plant back to a natural, uniform shape.
Some shrubs should not be hedge trimmed! For example, you do not want to use a hedge trimmer on roses. Roses should be pruned using hand pruners and/or loopers. Buzzing through your roses bushes with a hedge trimmer will cause a lot of stress on the plant and reduce future blooms.
Common shrubs include Roses, Boxwood, Euonymus, Spirea, Hydrangeas, Barberries, Hollies, Taxis/Yews (evergreen shrubs that have Christmas tree like foliage), Butterfly Bush, Viburnum, Rose of Sharon, and many, many more.
Pruning Ornamental Trees
Ornamental trees should be pruned using hand pruners, loopers, saws, or extendable tools if need to reach higher branches. Very rarely is it ideal to use a hedge trimmer on ornamental trees.
Regarding the silhouette of your tree, you will want to cut off branches that are extending past the ideal shape you want your tree to hold. If sapsuckers are present, you will want to snip them off as close to the ground as possible. Sapsuckers are the ‘new plant growth’ around the base of some ornamental trees.
Another type of pruning you may want or need to perform is ‘structural pruning.’ You may want to ‘train’ your tree to grow in a certain manner by selectively pruning branches you feel are growing out of place or in the wrong direction. You may need to thin out inner branches to allow wind and sunlight to enter.
Common ornamental trees include Red Buds, Dogwoods, Lilacs, Pear Trees, Japanese Maples, Magnolias, and Crabapples among others.
Picking The Right Tool To Prune Your Plants
We’ve already mentioned some tools while describing the different plant types that require pruning. Let’s take a deeper dive into the tools you should be familiar with when pruning plants.
What tool to use to prune plants?
Determining which tool to use to prune your plants with really comes down to the plant itself. For example, you never want to use a hedge trimmer of any sort on a rose bush. It would leave a lot of wounds on the branches still attached to the shrub and the cuts themselves would not be clean. Not to mention, you will have little control over exactly where the blades are cutting each individual branch and a lot of near-future blooms would be lost.
Not to say you need all of the tools below, but we wanted to show you all of the most common pruning tools. Most gardens can be pruned to perfect with hand pruners and a hedge trimmer.
Plant snips are much like hand pruners but not as heavy duty.
As pictured, they may even look like over-sized scissors, but often look more like hand pruners with 2 straight, thin cutting blades that are razor sharp.
Plant snips aren’t great for branches of any sort but are perfect for deadheading flowers or clipping very thin branches that may be hard to reach with any other bulkier pruning tool.
Hand pruners will be your best friend when pruning the plants in your garden!
They are versatile and inexpensive, making them a tool every gardener should own.
Cheaper models can be purchase for around $15-$20 and will work just fine for the average homeowner. Felco is the ‘Cadillac’ of hand pruners and they start around $50 if you want the best of the best.
Our advice is to purchase all-metal hand pruners as ones made with plastic tend to break quickly.
Hand pruners are perfect for pruner any branch even up to a couple of inches in diameter depending on how strong your hand pruners are.
If you have plant material in need of pruning that does have thick branches, loopers are often the right tool for the job.
The longer handles on loopers allow the operator to gain much greater leverage compared to hand pruners which makes slicing through thicker branches a breeze.
Loopers also come in handy when pruning plants with thorns such as Roses. The long handles allow you to keep your hands and arms out of harms way and safety cut the branch in need.
The holy grail of pruning tools, the hedge trimmer.
Battery-powered lawn and garden equipment has come a long in recent years and we highly encourage to you look into battery-powered options if you are looking to purchase a hedge trimmer. Electric hedge trimmers will also work well for most homeowners too.
If you need a lot of cutting power or have hours on hours of hedge trimming ahead of you, gas-powered hedge trimmers are probably still your best bet.
Hedge trimmers are great because they allow you to quickly and easier prune off a lot of plant material with precision.
One tool you may also need is a pocket saw. Much like any other saw made for cutting wood, pocket saws have razor-sharp teeth which cut through branches cleanly and quickly.
If you come across a branch that is too thick for your loopers to handle, you can rest assured your pocket saw will do the trick. Most saws made for pruning plants conveniently fold in the middle making them much safer to keep on your person.
Many landscapes have no need for a pole pruner, but we don’t want you to have FOMO (fear of missing out).
Pole pruners are exactly what they sound like, a pruner tool at the end of a pole. Most pole pruners extend out twice the length of their pole too.
You get 2 ways to cut with pole pruners. The first is the saw blade on the end which can be used like any other saw. The second is a hook and blade combo operated by the user via a pull string.
Make Sure Your Pruning Tools Are Sharp
It should go without saying that you want to ensure your cutting edges are sharp before cutting your plants.
If you fail to use a sharp blade, you risk tearing or splitting the branch ends that are still attached to your plants. This is going to cause a lot of unnecessary stress on your plants. If bad enough, it could kill your plants. But, at the very least, it is going to create some discoloring which is not going to look good for some time.
Safety Notice: We do not recommend touches the cutting edge to tell if it is sharp or not!
Sanitize Your Pruning Tools
We wanted to make sure we included everything you could possibly need to know about pruning in this blog post.
Something to consider is cross-contaminating your plants while pruning. It is possible to transfer disease or fungi from one plant to another while pruning. Although this is somewhat uncommon, we wanted to let you know this is a possibility.
If any of your plants are looking stressed or sick in any way, the safe thing to do would be to sanitize your pruning tools after pruning each plant. You can do this by scrubbing them with isopropyl alcohol and drying them before moving on to the next plant.
The Actual Cutting Of Your Plants
Finally, let’s get to trimming those plants!
Now that you are familiar with the plants in your landscape and all of the tools available for pruning plants, there is nothing left to it but to do it, as they say.
One, kind of obvious, thing to consider when pruning your plants is that you can’t reattach the clippings, but you can always trim off a little more. When in doubt, trim off what you know you can safely. Step back and look at the plant. Then decide if you should trim off any more or not.
Another thing to know is that you may only be able to trim certain plants back so far before you get into bare branches. Nothing makes a pruning job look worse than plants that got too much taken off and now have odd bare spots randomly throughout.
Check out this video Ryan put on YouTube about what he calls ‘X-Method Pruning.’
Make Your Plants Look Good
At the end of the day, you are really pruning your plants to make them look their best. If definitely helps to know the plants and to have the right tools.
Some pro tips we would like to offer include checking for similar plants in the bed before pruning. If you have 3 bushes of the same type in your bed, take a quick look at all 3. Are they approximately the same size? Are they already taking a certain shape such as round, cylindrical, or boxed? Take these things into consideration before you begin hacking away!
Take a Step Back and Look at Your Plants!
The best piece of advice we can give you is to step back and look at your plants. Even before making your first cut, envision the plant in the shape you are intended to prune it into. Then step closer and begin to prune the plant.
Once you have pruned off what you determined as the ‘safe amount’ to trim, step back and take another look. Does a little more need to come off one side or the other? Are there pesky branches untrimmed along the ground? With your next steps fresh in mind, step back up and make any additional cuts you saw were needed.
Finally, step back and take another look. If it is just how you want, move on to the next plant. If it is not, step back up and prune anything else in need. Once you get comfortable, you can probably get away with pruning several plants close together before stepping back to check on your progress.
Clean Up Those Plant Clippings!
If you are going to prune plants like a professional landscaper, the job is not done after making your cuts.
It is very important to pick up all of your plant clippings. In the short term, leaving the clippings is simply not going to look good. Over a period of a couple of months, clippings left at the base of plants will begin to break down and can introduce disease or fungi to your plants. In the best-case scenario, the disease or fungi will only damage your plants, but there is a very good possibility it will eventually kill your plants.
So, pick up those clippings and enjoy your freshly manicured garden!