To Prune or Not to Prune? Plant Maintenance Tips

David Deem

By John Voket

During this part of spring landscaping season, property owners should resist the urge to prune everything in sight, because improper or unnecessary pruning can damage plants, shrubs, and trees, and end up producing the opposite results than you might be seeking.

Experts at the North Carolina Cooperative Extension believe proper pruning is both a science and an art. The science involves recognizing plant flaws and eliminating defects. The artistic end involves removing expired plant pieces without someone knowing the plant has even been touched.

Improper pruning or pruning at the wrong time of the year can result in unsightly plants, reduced flowering, or plants that are more likely to be damaged by diseases, insects or winter cold, according to the extension experts.

Lisa Tadewaldt's blog at says avoid these common pruning mistakes:

Using dull tools. Old or overused tools may be dull, which makes the healing process longer since branches are not cleanly cut - and it makes the job more physically challenging. Tadewaldt's advice - sharpen your tools or look into investing in new ones.

Not sanitizing tools. Pruning involves performing a kind of surgery on a living thing, and if you are doing it without cleaning your tools, you may transfer soil-borne diseases from the previous plants they were used on, Tadewaldt says.

Stop over lifting. Also called lion tailing, this involves removing all the lower branches of a tree, making it top heavy and more susceptible to branch failure.

Avoid over pruning. Tadewaldt says you should never remove more than 25 percent of its leaf-bearing crown, even less when you are dealing with a mature tree.

In the Orlando area, the team at says when a tree is improperly pruned, it can create an eyesore, while well maintained trees can raise property values as much as 15 percent.

They discourage several practices like "topping," "lopping," and flush cutting - snipping a branch below the collar, flush with the supporting branch or trunk. This practice results in uneven bark thickness, and removes trunk tissue, exposing the tree to invasion by pests, disease and fungus.



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