Pruning Tips

Get the Best Results out of Pruning

Gardeners prune plants for a variety of reasons. Plants pruned range from the largest of trees to the smallest of shrubs and bushes. So why prune? And when?


Trees are usually pruned for shaping purposes; either to ensure that they are best displayed or simply to remove overhanging branches.

Shrubs and Bushes

As they are grown for their appearance and features, shrubs and bushes are pruned to make the best of their attributes. Sometimes they are pruned to a particular shape, either for amusement or for a themed garden. Whatever the reason, always try to achieve a balance: while you may want the shrub to produce its flowers to enhance the appearance of your garden, you should also ensure that the shrub can grow and develop to achieve its full potential.

Pruning For Health

With even a cursory glance at many plants you will instantly be able to differentiate between the weaker shoots and the stronger ones. Since the plant distributes its nutrients throughout its structure, it is clear that the weaker shoots will benefit at the expense of the stronger ones. Another reason for pruning is thus to remove weak or diseased shoots so that as much as possible of the plant’s nutrients reach the stronger shoots.
Conversely, if one region of the plant is doing very well and is allowed to continue doing so, you will end up with a lopsided plant. To prevent this, instead of pruning back the weaker shoots, you could judiciously remove some of the stronger ones so that more nutrients are directed to the weaker region, stimulating growth and achieving a more balanced plant. Judicious pruning is also a means of opening up the interior of the plant to allow light and air into that area.

Naturally, removing shoots and branches that are dead, damaged or diseased not only enhances the plant’s appearance, but also removes potential sources of infection. Removing a diseased part of the plant is clearly well advised as is removing a damaged area, for instance, as a damaged area may be prone to attack by diseases. When removing a diseased, dead or damaged branch, remove it just above the shoot that is well developed; if you notice that the cut surface shows discolouration or any other evidence that there is a problem, cut back even further, to just above the next thriving shoot.

What About Timing?

The norm is to prune at the end of winter/beginning of spring and, in very hot areas, you could also prune at the end of summer. The golden rule with pruning is: concentrate, think about what you are doing and when in doubt, ask the experts. Beware of pruning back too much; some fynbos species, for instance, are unlikely to recover and will die if pruned back too harshly.

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