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Pruning Basics

Pruning is a horticultural practice that alters the form and growth of a plant. Based on aesthetics and science, pruning can also be considered preventive maintenance. Many problems may be prevented by pruning correctly during formative years for a tree or shrub.

Reasons for Pruning

1. Prune to promote plant health.

• Remove dead or dying branches injured by disease, severe insect infestation, animals, storms, or other damage.
• Remove branches and branch stubs that rub together.

• Avoid "topping" trees. Removing large branches in this manner leaves stubs that can cause several health problems. It also destroys the plant’s natural shape and promotes suckering and development of weak branch structure.

2. Prune to maintain plants' intended purposes in a landscape, such as:

• Encouraging flower and fruit development
• Maintaining a dense hedge
• Maintaining a desired tree form or special garden forms

3. Prune to improve plant appearance

Appearance in the landscape is essential to a plant’s usefulness. For most landscapes, a plant’s natural form is best. Avoid shearing shrubs into tight geometrical forms that can adversely affect flowering. Alter a plant’s natural form only if it needs to be confined or trained for a specific purpose. When plants are pruned well, it is difficult to see that they have been pruned! Prune to:
• Control plant size.
• Keep evergreens well-proportioned.
• Remove unwanted branches, waterspouts, suckers, and undesirable fruiting structures that detract from plant appearance.

4. Prune to protect people and property.

• Remove dead branches.
• Have hazardous trees taken down.
• Prune out weak or narrow-angled tree branches that overhang homes, parking areas, and sidewalks — any place falling limbs could injure people or damage property.
• Eliminate branches that interfere with street lights, traffic signals, and overhead wires. REMEMBER, DO NOT attempt to prune near electrical and utility wires. Contact utility companies or city maintenance workers to handle it.
• Prune branches that obscure vision at intersections.
• For security purposes, prune shrubs or tree branches that obscure the entry to your home.

Source: University of Minnesota Horticutural Extension
Mike Zins and Deborah Brown, Pruning Trees and Shrubs, Item # 00628, 1997, All rights reserved

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