Damage From Over Pruning: Can You Kill A Plant From Over Pruning?

Damage From Over Pruning: Can You Kill A Plant From Over Pruning?

By: Kristi Waterworth

When you move into a new place, especially one with a large, mature landscape, the gardener in you will immediately start twitching if the plants on your lawn are overgrown. You may develop an irresistible urge to open the canopies and hard prune every plant you can reach — and some that belong to your neighbors. But, over pruning in plants can be as bad, or even worse, than not pruning them at all.

Can You Kill a Plant From Over Pruning?

Although over pruned trees and shrubs don’t usually die if some part of the canopy remains, the damage from over pruning can be extensive. Over pruning reduces the foliage that’s available for making food for the rest of the plant and can allow pests and diseases access to the tree, if cuts are made incorrectly. Plants may sprout excessively in response to so much canopy loss, both to protect the bark of the plant from sunscald and to increase food production.

Over time, continued over pruning may lead to branches that are too weak to tolerate wind or ice loads, or the plant may simply exhaust itself trying to replenish its canopy. The plant may become extremely weak, allowing a variety of pathogens and insects to invade. So, although pruning may not kill your plant directly, over pruned trees and shrubs can die as a long term result of the associated stress.

How to Repair Over Pruning

Unfortunately, the damage from over pruning can’t be fixed, but you can help your tree overcome the many difficult days ahead. Provide proper fertilization and water to help your plant along; its diminished capacity for photosynthesis means that it’s more important than ever that your plant has all the building blocks it needs readily available for food production.

Wound dressing is rarely recommended, with only a few exceptions, such as when oak wilt disease is common in the area. In this case, wound dressing can prevent the penetration of vectoring beetles into healing tissues. Otherwise, leave wounds open. It is now believed that dressing wounds slows the natural healing process in bushes and trees.

Time is the only real cure for over pruning, so when you decide to prune, do so carefully. Remove no more than one-third of the canopy at a time, and resist the urge to top your trees. Topping is a practice that’s very bad for plants and may lead to brittle canopies.

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The Essential Guide to Pruning Plants All Year Long

Knowing exactly when to prune is an important step in keeping plants healthy. Use our seasonal guide to plan your gardening calendar.

Before you start clipping, it's best to know what you're looking to remove. Prune any dead, dying, or diseased branches. If you're dealing with disease, cut well below any affected areas and don't prune when it's wet outside, since water can spread the harmful stuff. You'll also want to cut back any limbs encroaching on walkways or mown areas so they don't get broken off. Thinning branches in general also allows more sunlight and air to reach the center of trees and shrubs.

Get the right gear for the job. The Good Housekeeping Institute likes this Fiskars clippers because they're durable yet lightweight. Unique rolling gears help prevent cramping too.

Start by tying the tops of the grasses for quick and easy cutting. Then snip as close to the ground as possible.

Cut back butterfly bushes and Russian sage to about 4 inches tall. It'll help produce strong, new stems and the best flower display.

Prune winter-injured foliage from evergreens like boxwood or holly firethorn in the spring. Then wait until early summer to hedge.

Summer-blooming buds on trees, shrubs, and vines develop on new growth. Spring fertilization and adequate moisture later on will maximize the number and size of flowers like roses and hydrangea. Start by removing dead, damaged, or crowded stems, and shape or cut back as desired.

Hedge and shape your yews, juniper, and boxwood just as growth begins so it'll cover cut tips. Each job should include some inner thinning of the bush to ensure the outer foliage doesn't become too thick. A thin shell of dense leaves attracts insects.

Prune forsythia, rhododendron, and lilacs for shaping or size control after flowering. These plants form next year's buds during the summer, so belated trimming cuts off those future buds. You should clip fading flowers though. Deadheading directs growth into blooms versus seeds.

Thinning multi-stemmed shrubs, by removing the oldest stems each year, will maintain size and keep the plant vigorously blooming on new stems. If the shrubs are overgrown, cut them down to 3 or 4 inches for a fresh start. A drastic procedure for problem plants, this technique is called "rejuvenation."

Avoiding making a sticky mess by pruning certain types of trees during the summer or fall. Maples, birches, dogwoods, walnuts, and elms all ooze sap during the late winter and early spring, so it's best to wait until warmer months to give these branches a clip.

Deadheading perennials and annuals also extends flowering and promotes a second flush. After the frost, cut down and mulch the area well for next year's growth. However, you should skip clipping if the dried flowers or seeds are useful for propagation. During the fall, woody plants don't produce a protective tissue called callus. Fungal spores, bacteria, and insects could find a foothold in open wounds.

Winter is a great time to prune many trees and shrubs since insect and disease pressure is minimized, and the plant architecture is clearly visible. Start by removing any dead, damaged, or hazardous limbs. Clip suckers, as well as any crossed or rubbing branches. Somes species suited for winter pruning include poplar, spruce, junipers, sumacs, bald cypress, cherries, plums, and honey locust.


Pruning Small Flowering Trees

Avoid pruning a young or newly planted tree — it needs as many leaves as possible to produce the food required for good root growth. Remove only dead, broken, or injured branches, as well as those that cross or rub each other. And always prune back to a healthy stem or branch without leaving stubs. This eliminates hiding places for pests and diseases, and looks better. Never cut back the plant’s leader — the top-most growing point of the tree — which is vital to letting the tree develop its natural form.

What to Prune from a Tree

A. Suckers that grow from the roots or base of the trunk

B. Limbs that sag or grow close to the ground

C. Branches that form an acute angle with the trunk

D. Watersprouts that shoot up from main “scaffold” branches

E. Limbs that are dead, diseased, or broken

F. Branches that grow parallel to and too close to another

G. Branches that cross or rub against others

H. Limbs that compete with the tree’s central leader

Once the tree is a few years old, shape it gradually over the course of several years to maximize foliage and flowering. The tree’s branches should be well-spaced up the trunk and spiraling around it. As a guideline, prune no more than one-fourth of the tree’s total leaf area in a single year. To raise the tree’s crown or create clearance beneath it, remove the lowest branches. Also target branches that are spaced too closely together or that join the trunk at a narrow angle — 45 degrees or less. These form weak limb attachments and will break easily in wind or under the weight of snow and ice.


How to Prune Shrubs

Last Updated: February 19, 2021 References

This article was co-authored by Mike Garcia. Mike Garcia is a Licensed Landscape Contractor and the Founder of Enviroscape LA, a full-service landscape design and construction firm in Los Angeles, California. With over 30 years of experience, Mike specializes in sustainable landscape practices. Mike holds an Ornamental Horticulture degree, C-27 Landscape Contractor and D-49 Tree Service Contractor licenses, and Permaculture Design, California Naturalist, International Certified Professional Pond Contractor, and Pond Building certifications. He is one of eight Internationally Certified Pond Builders in the world. Enviroscape LA has won landscape and water feature awards from the International Professional Pond Contractors Association (IPPCA), National Association of Pond Professionals (NAPP), and the California Landscape Contractors Association (CLCA). Mike is a past president of the CLCA and currently serves on their local Board of Directors. Enviroscape LA has been featured in PONDS USA Magazine, Pond and Garden Lifestyles Magazine, and the Los Angeles Times. Mike has appeared on Extreme Home Makeover, HGTV's Landscapers Challenge, and A & E's series Fix That Yard.

There are 12 references cited in this article, which can be found at the bottom of the page.

This article has been viewed 14,556 times.

Pruning shrubs can help to stimulate new growth and thin out overgrown areas. It is also a good way to remove dead or diseased sections of the shrub. To prune shrubs, start by getting the necessary tools for the job. Prune young shrubs as soon as they are planted so they thrive. You should also prune old and overgrown shrubs so they can grow to their full potential.


How to Trim Shrubs

Last Updated: February 19, 2021 References

This article was co-authored by Mike Garcia. Mike Garcia is a Licensed Landscape Contractor and the Founder of Enviroscape LA, a full-service landscape design and construction firm in Los Angeles, California. With over 30 years of experience, Mike specializes in sustainable landscape practices. Mike holds an Ornamental Horticulture degree, C-27 Landscape Contractor and D-49 Tree Service Contractor licenses, and Permaculture Design, California Naturalist, International Certified Professional Pond Contractor, and Pond Building certifications. He is one of eight Internationally Certified Pond Builders in the world. Enviroscape LA has won landscape and water feature awards from the International Professional Pond Contractors Association (IPPCA), National Association of Pond Professionals (NAPP), and the California Landscape Contractors Association (CLCA). Mike is a past president of the CLCA and currently serves on their local Board of Directors. Enviroscape LA has been featured in PONDS USA Magazine, Pond and Garden Lifestyles Magazine, and the Los Angeles Times. Mike has appeared on Extreme Home Makeover, HGTV's Landscapers Challenge, and A & E's series Fix That Yard.

There are 10 references cited in this article, which can be found at the bottom of the page.

This article has been viewed 183,974 times.

Shrubs can make a beautiful addition to any yard or garden, but if left to grow on their own, can look out of control. Routinely trimming your shrubs can help them look well-maintained and prevent them from damaging your home's siding. Trimming shrubs can be done, in most cases, by amateur gardeners. Once you learn the right trimming technique, your shrubs will look beautiful in no time.


Comments (6)

Bossyvossy

i have to tell you this story so you dont feel so bad. We placed a call to utility company to evaluate a dying tree dangerously close to power line. An ARBORIST was sent within days. The guy shows up and said he wasn't sure what kind of tree it was. I immediately knew he didn't know squat as it was a pecan, an easily recognizable tree. I tried to be as friendly as I could and eventually found my way to asking him where he'd studied arborist science. His reply, and quite proudly so, was that he was almost 1/2 way done reading his manual. (What the . )

99% of the so called arboriststs are tree butchers with a dull chainsaw, sigh.

I'd just let your trees be and would not recommend removal at all. Be comforted by the thought this will never happen to you again. And to find an true arborist, I'd start with the nearest ag school in your area and word/of mouth.


Watch the video: How to Prune Your Arborvitaes Like a Pro!