Get Better Plants When You Time Your Pruning

Schedule your pruning chores? You may, or may not, know that there are optimal times of the year when we prune our plants. If you don’t know, please read on and I hope the information helps you.

What does Pruning do to a Plant?

pruning your plants
Typically, we like to wait until after the holidays have passed before doing any heavy pruning. Heavy pruning can be defined as cutting back more than one third of a plant. (Stock photo via barockschloss, Flickr/Creative Commons)

Every time you make a cut on a plant, you direct it to grow. Surprising, right? But you do have that power. This includes cutting back a wayward branch on a Distylium or cutting a handful of Zinnias to bring into your home. In order to do our plants justice, we want to ‘time’ this garden chore. Why? You have made a cut and the plant puts out new growth. The new growth needs 8 weeks to ‘harden off’, which is a fancy horticultural term that means the new growth becomes acclimatized before harsh conditions occur.

Ask Yourself a Question First?

Why are you pruning your plant? Is it above the windows, into the gutters, in front of a door? Taller than you think it should be? Too too large for the space? Those are not good reasons – someone did not choose wisely. Make a better choice and move this plant to a space where it can grow well, without trimming maintenance from you or anyone else. Design your Landscape will help you make better plant choices.

Pruning is extra work for you and often not necessary. There are dwarf varieties of almost every single plant on the market. We are moving toward less maintenance in the garden and less trash in the landfills, even if this is ‘trash’ that composts. Your time could be better allocated! And if compost is your goal, don’t send it to the landfill, keep it on your property.

schedule your pruning
Schedule your Pruning Chores

Best Times to Prune

Ultimately, the best time to schedule major pruning cuts on our landscape plants while a they are in dormancy. Most plants are dormant in late winter, as bud break occurs early spring. But with weather changing on an hourly basis and less predictable than in the past, this means you must be a weather-watcher in order not to cause damage. If you prune and we have warm weather, the plants will grow. IF we get another hit of cold weather, all that new growth will die. This is exactly what happened to local Hydrangeas in the fall of 2021 and winter of 2022. The ups and downs of cold weather caused severe damage or wiped out many shrubs.

Other Times to Prune

Also good times to prune would be in the dead of winter, when you believe that we will have extended cold – in other words, a normal weather pattern. We do not have typical weather patterns any longer, so you must be very careful or you will damage your plant.

And feel free to remove dead, dying, diseased or damaged plant material any time you discover it. The plant certainly doesn’t need it and, in some cases, it may cause further damage.

If the Plant Blooms

If you decide that your blooming plant needs a cut or two, schedule your pruning very wisely if you like those flowers. Know when your plant blooms – winter or early spring plants can be safely pruned up to 6 weeks after bloom. This way you won’t lose the blooms for next year. Summer or fall bloomers are considered blooming on new wood and you can prune accordingly.

Please Don’t Prune During this Times

There is a period in the late summer, early fall (depending upon the weather) when we and your plants would rather you not go through the garden cutting things up. The reason for this is the plant’s need to push new growth. Give the plant 8 weeks before predicted cold weather, from the time you make your cuts. The plant will ‘harden-off’ the new growth within this 8-week period and will survive your pruning.

During the heat of summer is another problem time for plants. The plant is under stress – hurting from too much sun, humidity and not enough water. Do not add more stress, do not prune and cause the plant to grow more while it is struggling.

What is the hired ‘Landscaper’ Doing?

Lots of ‘landscapers’ don’t think you will question them or, if you do, they will make you feel stupid for asking. After all, this is their job and they should know. The vast majority do not know, so you need to be on your toes. I will take you as a student and help to train you, but if you don’t care, I don’t want you as a client; that is how important plant health is to me. If he/she is ignoring this rule, you need to find someone who knows what he/she is doing. Someone ‘cleaning up’, (i.e. pruning), your landscape within the 8-weeks before cold weather is, without a doubt, harming your landscape – and for pay!! Hire someone who knows how plants work and will correctly schedule your pruning!

If you prefer to learn the correct way to prune your plants, come take a short 2-meeting class. We will meet for a class on what to do first; the second meeting will be in a yard perfecting what we have learned. The Pruning class will be taught Winter 2023.