Plant Life Balance

Slice, not slash – hints and tips to give your plants a healthy haircut

Spending more time at home than usual? It’s never been a better time to brush up on a bit of plant care know-how and snip your indoor and outdoor gardens into shape.

In these unpredictable times of COVID-19, one silver lining of spending more time at home is that you can invest in up-skilling yourself in easy, everyday horticulture and get your leafy friends looking their absolute best.

You know that fresh, new-you feeling you have after getting a new haircut? Plants are also huge fans of a regular snip! There’s a heap of reasons why pruning is a vital habit to add to your plant care regime – from improving health, to encouraging flowering and fruiting; and if you want to get fancy about it, pruning can also help you style and shape your plants’ shape.

Not a professional landscape gardener? No dramas. Like most plant care tips – pruning doesn’t have to be difficult or complicated. We sat down with the experts from Greenlife Industry Australia to chat all things plant snipping and slicing.

So, what’s pruning good for?

There are several reasons why we may prune plants in our homes and gardens, but most importantly, it’s a vital tool in managing your plants’ general health.

For some, it will be for purely aesthetic reasons such as hedging and topiary. For others, pruning serves a more structural purpose such as removing low branches (“crown lifting”) on trees to allow you to walk and sit beneath them.

Pruning can also induce bigger and better blooms or crops on fruiting and flowering plants, as well as encourage thicker foliage.

What do we need before we get started?

Unfortunately, the kitchen scissors are not going to be quite the right tool for the job! Just like a surgeon about to operate, you’ll want to have the right tools ready to go, and ensure that they are all sharp and clean. A wipe down of your tools in-between plants will also help prevent the spread of diseases around your garden.

These basics are good to start with:

Secateurs – used for the cutting of smaller stems and branches (no bigger than your finger). Keep them sharp, clean and readily accessible.

Loppers – used to remove larger branches as their larger cutting heads and longer handle lengths make the process much easier.

Pruning Saw – these tools are very handy for larger cuts, though watch out for their teeth! A sharp pruning saw reduces crushing damage that can occur using loppers.

Hedging Shears – their long, scissor-like blades allow the removal of larger amounts of fine growth with each cut.

When do you know it’s the right time for a prune?

Different plants require pruning at different times, and it is tricky to generalise across all plant species and climates. Having a chat with the experts at your local Plant Life Balance accredited nursery about your particular plants’ needs is a good place to start.

As a general rule though, here is when you should consider pruning:

  • After flowering – most plants enjoy a prune after flowering to encourage even more blooms to come, and to prevent the plant from expending energy producing seeds (if you don’t plan on collecting them or letting them self-sow into your garden, of course)
  • The 4 D’s – a common error is to leave any dead, diseased, damaged, dying plant material on the plant in the hope it will eventually recover. If the stem is already dead, there’s unfortunately not much that can be done and any diseased growth can further infect other parts of the plant
  • Suckers – some trees, shrubs and vines (e.g. citrus, roses, passionfruit) are grafted onto a rootstock of another variety of plant. If the rootstock starts to grow, you will want to remove it as soon as possible as it will quickly out-compete the plant that was grafted on, if left unchecked.

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3 Rules for pruning deciduous (meaning they drop all their leaves in the winter), woody shrubs. Shrubs are so great in the landscape if you want low maintenance, they usually just need a trim once a year and that's about it. So here are our three rules- 1. The 3 D's- Dead, Diseased, and Dumb. If you have any dead or diseased branches you can cut them out anytime. You don't need to worry about how much you're cutting out because they're already dead or going to be. Dumb refers to branches that are crossing each other, or sticking out weird and getting in the way when you mow the lawn. Cut these out any time of the year! 2. Timing is important! If you have a spring blooming shrub, for example forsythia, lilac, snowball viburnum, weigela, spirea, you want to wait until after they bloom to do any pruning besides the 3D's. If you prune them before they bloom you'll be cutting off all the blooms for this year! If they bloom later in the season you want to prune them earlier, in late winter or very early spring. 3. Prune out one third each season. Cutting a third will give you a nice bunch of new growth without stressing the plant. And PLEASE for the love of all that is holy, don't prune them to look like meatballs.? Cut your stems out from the bottom of the plant evenly throughout your shrub. This way you get a natural, beautiful shape. #nomeatballs I'll be doing some stories about my favorite tools, and other little things to know when pruning, and I'll save them in my story highlights.

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Any general hints and tips to achieving the perfect snip?

While some plants have their own specialised pruning technique, for most plants in your home or garden the below is a good start to ensure success.

  1. Know your plant – Different plants respond differently to pruning at different times of the year. Your local Plant Life Balance accredited nursery is your best resource for checking what to do and when.
  2. Prune to above a node – Nodes are the swellings along the stem (or perhaps where a leaf is already attached) where the new growth will originate once you have made the cut. If you leave too much wood above a node, you will typically see it die back to this point and then possibly beyond.
  3. Clean cuts – Avoid jagged cuts and tears to plant leaves and stems as these serve as an easy entry point for disease. Sharp tools will be your greatest allies in keeping cuts clean.
  4. Take it slow – By taking off plant material in a slower, controlled manner you will avoid overdoing it. Standing back and taking a look before moving on to your next cut will prevent pruning mistakes.

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The stunning gardens of Hanham Court ?

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See? Not so tricky!

Got a specific pruning question? Get in touch with your local Plant Life Balance accredited nursery and have a chat with the experts. If you just want to show off your superior plant pruning skills, tag us at #myplantlifebalance.

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