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It must be a frightening thing to the new gardener to stand in front of a shrub, one which he or she painstakingly chose, planted, fed, watered and has fretted over continuously, with the expressed purpose to prune it. Prune it! What a hideous thought. To cut into a bush you love is tantamount to cutting off your child’s fingers. But truly it isn’t. It’s more like giving that adorable child a haircut and as we all know that never hurt anyone. That is exactly as you should approach the daunting task of pruning a bush. It’s merely a painless haircut.
With that in mind let us go over a few things to show you how to pruning shrubs without fear.
The cutting tools used should be sharp, well-made and in good working order. Misaligned or dull blades make for bad, torn cuts which in turn can cause problems for the plant. In order to gain confidence starting with small hand pruners is best. These are easy to use and gives you the best control. For thick branches, loppers, which are just really big hand pruners, are great to use. Hedge trimmers are excellent for bushes set in straight, perfect uniform lines. Cutting off an inch at a time, stepping well back, looking, then returning to cut another inch off is the way to ensure you don’t cut too much off or are working lopsided.
Pruning away dead twigs is the easiest thing to do to regenerate a sickly looking bush. It will open it up to sun and air and in no time it will start looking healthier. Simply follow the dead branch down to the base and snip it off at a 45 degree angle. Make certain the pruners are right side up.
Where branches are too long and you want a tidier look cut the branch back to the length you desire just above an outward facing leaf bud, again at a 45 degree angle. This will encourage it to branch outward instead of inwardly which would crowd the other branches and cause dead twigs in the center again.
To check the growth of a shrub, meaning to keep it from getting too big for its home, prune the tips of each branch back a few inches every spring to an outward facing bud. Do this after the new spring growth in the case of evergreens or after it flowers in the case of Azaleas or Rhododendrons. Cutting off the new spring growth or spent flower will keep it looking neat and also encourage it to become bushier. If it is overgrown cut back further or remove one or two branches entirely to open up the bush. Do only one or two at most in any given season to keep from shocking the plant.
As for bushes that are completely overgrown to the point you think they will never look good again, think again. Some may be to their age limit and nothing but cutting them all down to the ground will help. Why? Because a plant that feels threatened usually gets a new will to live. Yes, it may seem strange but it is true. Some bushes may die of shock if cut entirely to the ground but as you didn’t think much of them, no loss, right? But others just get a new shot of the equivalent of flora adrenalin. They wake up, start growing and looking better than ever. Plants are wonderfully tenacious. Think dandelion and you’ll understand.
So, there you have it, a guide to pruning most bushes hopefully without you shaking in your garden boots. It truly isn’t that hard and even if you made a “fatal” mistake, just learn from it and try again. Plants for the most part are forgiving. Much more so than people when you give them a bad haircut.
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