Pruning is both the art and the science of cutting woody plants to produce desired results.
That's a mouthful, I know. And it almost sounds as if I'm dodging the issue. But if you think of all the effects a gardener might seek from different plants by pruning them, then a good pruner is both an artist and a scientist.
Here are a few rules to keep in mind before cutting woody plants.
Rule No. 1: There are only two types of pruning cuts: thinning and heading.
Thinning cuts tend to open up plants. That's because you entirely remove limbs at their base, and replacement growth, if any, doesn't fill the opening you created. Fruit growers use a lot of thinning cuts to let light penetrate the canopy, to improve the fruit color.
Make heading cuts by cutting back portions of shoots. Where each shoot is headed, bud breaks create two, three or four shoots from the remainder of the shoot you headed. So the canopy gets thicker. A formal hedge is a good example of heading cuts.
Rule No. 2: Never prune woody plants in late fall through January. If dehorning is to be done, do it in late winter just before budbreak.
Woody plants pruned in October, November, December and January are far more susceptible to cold injury than if pruned in other months.
Rule No. 3: If spring flowering plants require pruning, do it right after they flower. Prune plants that bloom in summer, fall and winter before they start growing in the spring.
Rule No. 4: Dormant pruning is an invigorating process. In simple terms, you've given the root system the upper hand. You've reduced the top it will support once it starts growing.
On the other hand, late-spring pruning tends to devitalize the plant somewhat. That's because stored reserves in the shoots, trunk and roots were used to produce the new growth. In effect, you've removed part of the food-producing foliage before it can "pay back" the shoots, trunk and roots with food reserves.
Rule No. 5: Choose the right plant for the right place. A vigorous plant in a place where a small plant should be can't be kept small forever by pruning. Many landscape plants, too, can be dense and full in the sun but are often very open and leggy in shady areas. Pruning can't correct this problem.
Rule No. 6: Complement pruning by going easy with the fertilizer. In many cases, landscape plants get all the nutrients they need when you fertilize your lawn.
Rule No. 7: Contact your county extension office. Look in the phone book under "County Government." They have a number of publications on the culture and care -- including pruning -- of just about any garden plant adapted for Georgia. They'll be glad to help you out.