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Pruning for a Healthy Landscape

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Pruning season has arrived. When a plant’s branches are dead, diseased, or damaged they should be removed. An old, overgrown plant may be brought back by pruning. Depending on what type of plant, a hard pruning in the spring may bring a flush of new healthy growth. Sometimes the wrong plant is planted in the wrong place; pruning will help create a manageable size. Pruning outcrossed and rubbing branches builds a plant’s structural integrity. Pruning out disease or insect infestations leads to better plant health. Here are guidelines for pruning various kinds of plants.

Fruit Trees: Learn the difference between fruiting wood and vegetative growth. Pruning out too much fruiting wood will reduce blossoms and fruit. A chart at  tells where fruiting buds are located.

Look for weak, dead, diseased or crossing branches and “suckers” from the base of the tree. Remove all of these branches and sprouts first.

Think of how you want your tree to look. In most cases, you want a scaffold of 3 to 4 branches in the shape of a vase with upward pointing branches and an open center for good air circulation.

Remember that cutting encourages growth from the bud just below the cut. Choose a bud that faces the direction where you want new growth. Cut cleanly at roughly a forty-five-degree angle one-quarter of an inch above the selected bud. Do not leave a large stub. If you are removing a branch to the trunk of the tree look for the rounded collar at the base of the branch and cut at its outside edge.

Grapes: Grapes are grown for ornament, shade, fruit and wine. Each of these purposes requires a different pruning approach. Grape plants are the next thing to weeds, difficult to kill. However, prune after the danger of frost is past to avoid damaging new buds.

Pruning for an arbor or fence top is easy, just trim to taste. Vines prefer to produce foliage, so will likely produce little fruit that is small.

For fruit, you need to severely prune your vine by cane pruning. After summer’s growth and the vines are dormant, you will see a number of canes coming from the “head” of a vine. First year canes will be smooth, without true bark on them, and produce next summer’s fruit. Leave from two to four canes on each side of the head, tie them to the wire and prune all other canes back to the head.

Wine grapes are cordon (spur) pruned. Take two canes the first year and tie them to the wire. All other canes (“suckers”) should be pulled off. After the first year when the arms are established, all the canes are pruned from the arms leaving behind a spur with two or three buds on it. These spurs produce foliage and grapes for wine.

Roses: Typically, prune roses before the plant breaks dormancy and after the danger of frost is past. However, prune rambler and vigorous climbing roses after flowers fade in the spring.

Cut out diseased and dead canes, older gray and weak new canes. Always cut to a strong outside bud. If removing the entire cane cut on the bud union where the cane originated. Cut at an approximately 45 degree angle ¼ inch above the bud or bud-union. Leaving a longer section causes die-back to occur.


UCCE Master Gardener Rebecca Miller Cripps composed this article based on previous articles written by Julie Silva, Jack Bennett, and Jim Bliss, all University of California Cooperative Extension Master Gardeners of Tuolumne County.

University of California Cooperative Extension Central Sierra Master Gardeners can answer home gardening questions. Call 209-533-5912 in Tuolumne County, 209-754-2880 in Calaveras County or fill out our easy-to-use problem questionnaire here. Check out our website here. You can also find us on Facebook.