March is a great time to prune most trees and shrubs. Bare branches mean you can more easily see their basic shape. Also, pruning now before active growth means plants won’t waste energy growing new leaves and branches that would just get trimmed off anyway.
In the wild, trees and shrubs don’t get pruned. Branches break and rub and grow in all directions. The results are more ragged-looking plants that can be less healthy than those that have the advantage of a gardener to tend them.
Not all garden plants need pruning, though. Here are four reasons to possibly prune.
Promote plant health
- Remove any 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.
- Prune fruiting and flowering trees and shrubs to encourage better flower and fruit development.
- Prune a hedge to encourage more dense growth and keep it neat.
- Prune to maintain a desired tree or shrub form.
Improve plant appearance
- Opt in most cases to follow the plant’s natural form. Avoid shearing shrubs into tight geometric forms — especially with flowering plants. It destroys its flowering habit. When plants are well-pruned, it’s hard to tell that they’ve been pruned.
- You can prune to control plant size, but only to a degree.
- Remove unwanted branches, suckers and water sprouts (suckers from the roots) that detract from plant appearance and can over the years engulf the main plant.
Protect people and property
- Remove dead branches that might fall.
- 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 streetlights, traffic signals and overhead wires. But do not attempt to prune these yourself. Contact utility companies or city maintenance workers to handle it. They’ll have to turn off the power to trim safely.
- For security purposes and for visual appeal, prune shrubs or tree branches that obscure the entry to your home. Same with shrubs that obscure windows.
l Veronica Lorson Fowler is co-publisher of The Iowa Gardener website at www.theiowagardener.com.