Monthly Archives: January 2016

Pruning 101: Health & Structure

The Pruning Series, 4.  If you choose to read only one of my posts on pruning, this should be the one.



Pruning cannot save every tree. This large Magnolia appears to have lost its main trunk  long ago and is now surrounded by suckers and sprouts with most of the base rotted out. The section growing to the right is full of rot and is leaning over the adjacent house. It is common for trees like this, heavily damaged and in decline to sprout this way.  Sprouts such as these are weakly attached to the trunk and the structural integrity of this tree is very compromised.  I would not be surprised if spring’s new grew will be enough added weight to cause it to collapse on the house.  The entire ‘landscape’ suffers neglect.  I’m sure no one is monitoring it.  Such is the case with most urban trees.

Whatever your goals for pruning may be you must always keep plant health first and foremost in mind.  In many cases, especially with high value plants in our landscapes, this might be our only reason to prune.  In any good pruning class the instructor will emphasize in some form, the dictum, ’First, do no harm!’ which is often attributed to the medical world’s Hippocratic Oath.  It seems fitting to me to do this as both are dealing with life and promoting good health, only with horticulture and gardening our ‘patients’ are plants.  All organisms have a characteristic, genetically determined structure, that when compromised threatens its health.   All organisms experience stress and, if within limits, respond by strengthening their structure.  Expose them to excessive stress and physical damage occurs.  Storm damage, breakage, vandalism, branch failure following the growth of weak structure, a ‘burden’ of dead wood, diseased tissue, all add to the stresses on a plant and can all be relieved by good pruning…or exacerbated by poor or overly heavy pruning.  Timing can also be a factor as it can disrupt the natural growth cycle causing a delay in the plant’s acclimation to cold process. Continue reading


Pruning: The Aesthetic Choice, Consistency & Good Horticultural Practice

The Pruning Series, 3

Illustrations from 'Pretty Deadly', written bj Kelly Sue Deconnick, art Emma Rios, colors Jordie Bellaire, Image Comics 2015

Illustration from ‘Pretty Deadly’, written by Kelly Sue Deconnick, art Emma Rios, colors Jordie Bellaire, Image Comics 2015, (007-002).  Straight-up classic art, whether oil painting or illustration, like these two pages from a graphic novel that I find beautiful, involve ‘craft and, an understanding of one’s materials and techniques, that are necessary for any artist to create work. In illustration, like this, the art must resonate with the story to be successful. Horticulture and pruning are no different.

Plants often present pruning challenges to the gardener.  I’ve already introduced the issue of understanding ‘why’ you are choosing to prune, the physical structure of a ‘normally’ growing individual and how it will respond to the cuts you choose to make.  There are several good books out there that discuss how and what constitutes a ‘good’ individual cut and what approach you might take with different types of growers…it should be the goal of any gardener to understand the technical details of pruning, so that they become ‘natural’, reflexive. (In an earlier posting, I discuss pruning tools and provide an introduction to what constitutes a ‘good’ pruning cut.) Like all artists we develop a style that may distinguish us from others.  Even understanding all of this and possessing the technical competencies there are the ‘aesthetic’ decisions the gardener/pruner must make.  Two different gardeners can prune in the same landscape and it can be obvious when they are finished that they have very different aesthetics.  The results can be ‘disjointed’ or harmonious.  Every plant, every branch, every internode, presents a choice and because each individual plant of a given species or variety, though it may grow following a shared genetic code, will grow uniquely in response to the physical conditions it faces…and the damage and pruning it has received over its life.  Like most things in life our control of a plant is limited and the more we attempt to control it the less like itself it will be. Continue reading