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How to Make the Proper Cuts

When pruning plants, cut at the right spot to promote rapid healing

Regular pruning helps to control the size and shape of your plants, and it’s also a way to keep them healthy and productive. But it’s important to know where to make your cuts. In this video, Lee Reich, author of The Pruning Book, published by The Taunton Press, demonstrates the right and wrong ways to cut.

Where you cut on a plant is as essential as the tool you use to make the cut. Pruning wounds a plant. But the injury you cause doesn’t need to compromise the plant’s health if you make the cut properly. The ultimate goal of pruning is to get the plant to heal itself as quickly as possible. To do this, the location of your cut is key.

What you’re trying to avoid

The longer a plant has an open wound, the greater the chances are of pests or disease entering that doorway and causing damage. Think of this the same way you think about a cut on your own body. If the injury doesn’t heal quickly, it becomes susceptible to infection. It’s the same with plants.

Locate and identify your buds

When cutting back any woody plant, first identify where the buds are. These are pointy structures coming out of a stem, where a leaf is growing or grew the previous season. This will be your point of reference for making any cuts. Most new growth originates from buds, so where you make your cut will determine where healing will be concentrated and where new growth will happen.

Incorrect cut #1

If you decide to cut where you’ll end up leaving an inch of stem beyond the last bud, that inch of stem will eventually die, leaving a stub that will rot away and provide possible entryway for disease.

Incorrect cut #2

On the other hand, if you cut a stem too close to a bud, you might damage the bud or cause it to dry out. This will prevent regrowth.

The correct cut

The best way to shorten a stem is to cut it back a little beyond a bud, at an angle, with the cut sloping down slightly behind the bud. If you make your cuts like this you’ll ensure fast healing and healthy new growth.

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