Part art and part science, pruning requires some basic skill and know-how to get done properly. We'll talk about a few of the basics to get you started.
First, when you are removing that apical bud, called heading back, you want to cut back to either a branch or bud that is growing in the direction you want the branch to go. You don't want branches growing too horizontally or vertically; the connection to the tree is weak and prone to breaking. It also affects the flowering and fruiting on that branch -- straight vertical growth is mostly leafy and horizontal is mostly floral. For both strength and balance, you usually want the branches on your fruit trees to be at about a 45- to 60-degree angle.
Next, you want to make sure that you don't leave a long stub when you prune. Leave only about a quarter-inch from the cut to the branch or bud. If you are totally removing a branch, the swelling at the base, called the collar, is your guide.
If you are pruning certain shrubs or bramble-like fruit, such as raspberries and blackberries, you need to remove whole canes all the way to the ground (some heading back on big growers like blackberries is OK). After brambles bloom and fruit, the cane dies back and should be removed. There are some newer varieties (called primocane varieties) that bloom both in the fall and spring. The main crop is in the fall. You can either wait until after the smaller spring crop to prune, or cut the whole thing down in the fall if you aren't worried about the crop.
This method of pruning is also best for ornamental shrubs that have a fountainlike growth habit. The one that comes to mind to me is forsythia, that yellow shrub that blooms early in the spring. It is a major pet peeve of mine to see them shaped up like a hedge. It severely reduces flowering and just looks unattractive. If you cannot let the plant grow to its full potential, perhaps it needs to grow elsewhere -- but that is just my little peeve.
Getting ready to garden!
People are itching to get out in the garden. Here's what the WVU Extension Garden Calendar says it's time to do:
John Porter is the WVU Extension Service agent for agriculture and natural resources in Kanawha County. He may be reached at john.por...@mail.wvu.edu or at 304-720-9573. Twitter: @WVgardenguru.