EAST TEXAS - Recent inquiries at the Extension office have been about pruning trees and shrubs. Indeed, this is a great time to do most of your annual pruning. Trees and shrubs are in their dormant stage and can take it quite well.
We prune for several reasons. First pruning promotes plant health by removing dead or dying branches injured by disease, severe insect infestation, animals, storms, or other damage.
We also prune to encourage blooms and fruit development, maintain a dense hedge, or maintain a desired form.
Proper pruning improves aesthetics by controlling plant size or removing unwanted branches, waterspouts, suckers, and undesirable fruiting structures
For the gentleman that asked about a large Catalpa tree limb that could damage his house, we prune to protect people and property by removing hazardous branches such as weak or narrow-angled tree branches that overhang homes, parking areas, and sidewalks.
Some argue that you may improve security around the home by removing branches that obscure the entry to your home.
Lastly, pruning also increases roadside safety and visibility by eliminating branches that interfere with streetlights, traffic signs, overhead wires, or obscure vision at intersections.
If you have any dead or diseased branches, those can, and should, be removed at any time of the year. Leaving them may aid in spreading the disease or problematic insects.
When cutting off a limb, you don’t want to leave a portion of the limb sticking out nor do you want to skin up the tree trunk bark because of cutting too close. There is a “collar” near the base of limbs that your final pruning cut should be made through. Taking care to cut through the collar will ensure the best chances for it to heal over.
The shrubs that you should NOT cut back at this time are those whose blooms were formed on last year’s growth. The first example of a shrub that many folks think of is the Azalea. If you were to prune it now, you’d greatly reduce the amount of blooms this spring! Others that you want to be sure and wait until after bloom before pruning include Redbud, Japanese Quince, Fringe tree, all Forsythias, rambling roses, and Viburnums.
Shrubs that you can confidently prune now include shrub roses, Abelia, Shrub Althea, and the Vitex/Chaste tree. These plants will bloom on the coming spring growth.
If you are reluctant or afraid of making a mistake, let me share some wisdom that I heard many years ago from renowned horticulturalist, Neil Sperry. He said, “No plant absolutely has to be pruned.”
Think about it. The plant doesn’t need its growth modified. We modify it to meet our needs.
Several fruit tree species certainly will produce larger fruit if pruned correctly. There is both an art and science to pruning. I’ll never forget the first time a commercial peach producer showed me how many lateral limbs he wanted, then how many buds he would allow per limb. His efforts were quite laborious and profited him greatly.
If you’ve ever studied the methods of pruning grape vines for maximum production, you’ll find a very structured process. Vineyard owners gain their livelihood from proper pruning practices.
Other fruit and nut trees fall into the same category. Be it a pear, pecan, or persimmon: a careful, planned approach typically yields a healthier tree and more abundant fruit.
Yes, there are outliers in the exacting fruit-pruning world. Figs don’t need pruning. Some of the best fig trees that I have observed in my travels around east Texas haven’t seen a lopper yet. Robust as they can become, their limbs grow and produce quality fruit on new growth from regular water and proper fertilization, but no pruning.