Hillsborough Extension Garden Blog

Solutions you can use for your gardening problems.

Death by Shears & Clippers August 27, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — Hillsborough County Residential Horticulture @ 12:20 pm

Improper pruning of a crape myrtle, aka "crape murder"

I was always suspicious, but now I’m convinced – my neighbor is a serial pruner! In broad daylight, I watched in horror as she wielded the pruning shears and amputated the limbs of her crape myrtle… what horticulturalists call “crape murder”.  Leaving the tree in critical condition, she made her way across the yard, wreaking havoc with every slice of her shears.

Too often, plants in the landscape are pruned incorrectly, causing unnecessary stress and increasing plants’ vulnerability to pests and diseases.  The real purpose of pruning is to selectively remove shoots, branches, fronds, and flowers to improve the health, flowering, fruiting, or appearance or to control the growth of a plant.

More often than not, however, the shears, saws, and clippers find their way out of the tool shed to tame plants that have gotten out of control – usually because they were planted without regard to their mature size.  As these plants hang over the roof, tap on windows, and encroach on the walkway, it becomes necessary to clip or prune frequently to keep them within bounds.

There are numerous variables that affect the pruning process. These include the type of plant, the time of year, and the reason for and method of pruning.

Selective pruning of trees and large, woody shrubs can help to shape plants.

Selectively prune to manage unwanted growth or to train plants.

When trees are young (within 2 to 3 years after planting), proper pruning results in good structural strength and safety – important considerations in a state known for hurricanes. Other precautionary measures include removing dead, dying, or damaged branches and removing branches that are poorly attached and can split from the tree as it gets older.

Although evergreen trees and shrubs can be lightly pruned any time of the year, most flowering plants have a definite window of opportunity. Late winter/early spring bloomers should be pruned in late spring, before the flower buds set for the next season. Prune plants that produce flowers on the current season’s growth – like crape myrtle and hibiscus – while the plant is dormant or just before the spring growth flush. Large shade trees should be pruned during winter dormancy or just after a growth flush.

As I walked next door to try and convince my neighbor of the error of her ways, I was stopped short by a falling palm frond. Balancing precariously on a ladder, my neighbor was in the process of pruning her cabbage palm into a “10-2” position (think about your hands on the steering wheel). I grimaced as another frond came crashing down at my feet. Removing green fronds can damage the palm and slow growth, attracting pests and diseases.

For fear of becoming the next victim of my neighbor’s pruning fixation, I ran back inside and wrote this article instead. Hopefully I can leave the readers with these bits of Florida-friendly logic when it comes to pruning:

  • Choose plants that are suited for the site conditions (i.e. soil, water, light, and space);
  • Slower growing plants don’t need to be pruned as often;
  • Regular, light pruning of trees and shrubs is better than infrequent, hard cuts;
  • Only remove dead fronds off palms; and
  • Consult a certified arborist before pruning large limbs on trees.

If you think your neighbor might be a serial pruner, don’t call 9-1-1. Just visit http://solutionsforyourlife.com to find your local county Extension office for more resources and education to help you make the right decisions for your (and your neighbor’s) landscape.


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