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Article

Preview: The Science of Pruning

Fine Gardening - Issue 185

Pruning is a pretty darned big, and sometimes complicated, topic. Even narrowing it down to the science part and leaving out the artsy stuff still leaves a lot to learn. The first thing a would-be pruner needs to know is that plants, by and large, are resilient. Most people new to pruning are afraid that they’ll cut the wrong branch and end up killing their favorite tree. It’s true that
a few ill-placed pruning cuts can make for an ugly specimen or result in a structurally ­unstable tree. But it’s highly unlikely that a
few errant cuts will kill your subject.

Of all the bits and pieces that go into devel­oping a sound pruning strategy, the most important is having an understanding of how a plant will (or at least will likely) respond to pruning. A basic knowledge of a few core principles can help you do a fairly good job of predicting plant response, and in turn, do a fairly good job of pruning.

Energy balance drives the pruning plan

The most frequent question asked about pruning is “When should you do it?” The traditional recommendation is to prune a flowering plant depending on when the plant flowers. If it flowers on old wood (growth from the previous season), prune after flowering to avoid cutting off spring blooms before you have a chance to enjoy them. But if the plant in question flowers on new wood (the current season’s growth), prune in late winter.

While this is sound advice to ensure maximum flower enjoyment during a single season, it completely ignores the physiology of the plant. Rather than obsess about a few blooms in one season, it’s better to consider the overall energy balance of the plant.

To read the full article and learn more about pruning, subscribe to receive your digital copy of the newest issue of Fine Gardening magazine. 

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