Monday, 4 January 2010

When less is more: pruning

by Francesca


When I started gardening ten years ago, and I didn't expect this activity to become so much more than just a way to grow our food. The slow, steady pace of tending a garden is for me a constant learning experience, and almost a meditation.

kiwi vines to prune

Pruning, which in my part of the world starts at the beginning of the year with the pruning of grape and kiwi vines and olive trees, is a good example. I've learned that there are many reasons for pruning, which range from functional to purely aesthetic, but all involve the removing some parts of the plant in order to improve the plant as a whole. Most plants in our gardens, in fact, will improve both their health and their yield if we cut them, carefully, back to less.

I find that living better on less is a positive message for the new year, as well as a good general philosophy of life.

Before you start, you'll need two pruning essentials: a) correct tools, and b) a basic knowledge of your plants.

forbici del giardiniere

Correct tools:

For most pruning jobs, the proper tools are leather gloves and a pair of sharp pruning shears. Before buying a pair of shears, or any other equipment, it's worth doing a little research, as many companies make tools with replaceable parts. With proper care, these tools can be used almost indefinitely (for example, here are shears like this).

Know your plants:

Before you go out and start cutting away, learn something about the growth and vegetative cycles of the plant you intend to prune, to determine when to prune it – and whether to prune it at all. Also, consider your aims in pruning this plant. Are you trying to improve its appearance, increase its yield of fruits or flowers, or lengthen its lifespan by cutting away dead or diseased material? The answers to questions like this will help to determine what overall pruning approach you take.

pruned grape vines

There are three key concepts to keep in mind when pruning:

  1. First prune off all dead, diseased, or parasite-infested parts of the plant.

  2. Always cut above a bud - never too close or the bud will die, and never too far from it or the vegetative part above the bud will die causing dead tips.

  3. The apical bud is predominant over lateral ones, and will grow more vigorously (hence, if you prune the apical bud, your plant will tend to grow laterally and not vertically) . The apical bud and is more evident in younger plants than in older ones, and it's more evident in trees than in bushes and shrubs.

There are many valuable on-line resources for pruning. This is an excellent, thorough introduction to the reasons and methods of pruning, and here is a straight-forward guide filled with how-to tips on pruning many common garden plants.