It’s Fall: Gardeners, Get Out Your Pruners!

Let’s talk about pruning, which is accomplished with two main methods:

  • Shearing with a pair of shears. This is normally used with plants that need to be shaped on the outside to some form like a hedge or a topiary. It is best done with plants that have small leaves or tiny foliage to really look good.  Pruning in this fashion causes a plant to thicken up and have many points of growth. Lavender, heather, boxwood and sometimes evergreen azaleas are common examples of plants that respond well to this method of pruning.  Used indiscriminately, however, this can create the lollipop and gumdrop look that some people like and most people hate.
  • Trimming, or selectively or thinning. This type of pruning is accomplished with clippers for smaller branches, loppers for thicker branches or a saw for the biggest branches.  Trimming’s main function is to select out a branch or a twig and remove it to create more internal space. The best miniature example would be a Bonsai plant.  Others that can really look good with this kind of pruning are upright Japanese maples, rhododendron (but not until it is finished blooming in the spring), or a vine maple. Trimming is pruning from the inside out. Most plants would look their best using this method. Don’t let your enthusiasm get the better of you, however, and avoid pruning spring blooming plants, such as Rhodies or azaleas during the fall. If you cut off the buds now, you won’t have any glorious blooms come next spring.

In late fall, your pruning efforts should be spent on perennials that have just finished blooming, and certain types of shrubs, such as mop head hydrangeas. Clear away the brown foliage and any seed pods (think, Echinacea, or cone flowers), if the birds haven’t already done that for you.

Here’s how I shear my lavender this time of year:

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