Time to Prune

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Pruning is an important step for the health of your plants.

My son is having a birthday party this weekend, which means that my wife wants the garden to have a new look, and pruning may be the easiest way for me to accomplish her wishes.Why does my wife want the garden redone for each party? I have no idea, but it has been her habit. Fortunately for me, I was already transplanting several plants, so that helped;  however, she felt that the garden had “messy” look. Some plants were doing well this year, expanding out of their bounds.

    Ithink that pruning is best done once the tree or bush has gone dormant. This does not apply to azaleas or other bushes that flower in one glorious show. If I pruned them now, I will more than likely loose my spring blooms. My crepe myrtles are already fading, so I may trim them back soon. My main concern in making the garden look clean to my wife’s eye (yes I do enjoy a bit of chaos), I am going after two trees that now have limbs coming down towards the ground. Also, my hibiscus likes to stretch its limbs in all directions. Since theses bushes are used as a wall for my porch, I do like them to be manicured.

   Here are my considerations for pruning:

1)Remove any limbs/branches away from the roof and walls of the home. As a home inspector, I have seen limbs remove the roof covering and sheathing on a few homes. I have seen moisture trapped around windows that allowed for further problems in the home. My rule of thumb is that plants should be pruned to be at least one foot away from the walls. I go with two feet around my home, because that gives me space to walk between the plants and the wall. For limbs coming near the roof, I take away any branch that is heading towards the roof. I do not have a rule of thumb as for the distance away from the roof, but I would say at least ten feet seems to be my goal.

2)Remove branches from the paths that we walk.Rubbing against the plants or being hit in the head by a branch is not fun, and you may be harming the plant (broken branches). I also look at the pattern that my dog takes through the yard (he has his own paths, and he has decided that any vegetable bed seems to be a good path no matter where he is going).

3)I look for ways to improve the health of the plant by my pruning. Air flow through a plant is important, since it removes excess moisture that can weaken the plant. Also, I look for ways to add sun light into the heart of the plant. If you do not create pathways for light, the plant will not produce a lush look. Leaves will concentrate on the exterior boundary. To create a lush feeling you need leaves on the interior as well.

4)Creating a manicured look. I am not too interested in having a formal garden. I do want my garden to look good, so some manicuring is alright. I look at the form that I want, and then consider will light reach all the areas of the plant to encourage healthy growth. I do not prune straight down; it will always be at an angle with a wider base than top.

   How do I prune? For larger limbs, I begin by taking off as much material before I go for the main branch. Once I have removed some of the weight, I make an under cut about two feet from the hub where the branch meets the main stem. The undercut goes about a third of the way into the limb. Then I do my cut from the top about six inches back towards the main hub. This helps prevent damage to the tree. My finally cut is just outside the hub. Leaving the hub will help the tree or bush to heal. For smaller limbs, I hold onto the branch while making a cut outside the hub. For bushes, I take away about a third of the plant. This helps with the light and air flow. Growth will be vigorous in the next year.With my almost year round growing climate in Houston, I do at times work my way up to a third of the bush to make the pruning look less drastic.

    I do constant pruning throughout the year on bushes like my roses. Roses bloom all year long, but your bush will not produce more flowers quickly, when the plant has dead flowers. I deahead (remove dead flowers) whenever I notice these spent blooms.

    I stagger my pruning to make the task easier. If I went after every tree and bush on one day, I could have quite a job on my hands. For my wife’s party goals, I pick an area of the garden to prune each day leading up to the event. Otherwise, I pick a section to concentrate on each week.

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This site came out of my desire to write about my love of gardening, but also to connect it to my knowledge derived from home inspections. That is why I tied it to the home inspection site.If you have questions, you can email them to me (frank at yourhoustonhomeinspector.com). For home inspections, call 713.781.6090.
Happy gardening, Frank


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