Home Page
Order Books
Featured Plants
Seasonal Advice
News Columns
Other Work

Book Signings and Lectures
by Monica Brandies


Would you like to be notified of new books or website updates?
Join our Mailing List.
It is completely confidential and voluntary. You may Subscribe or Unsubscribe at any time.



Principles of Pruning

Every day is time for pruning in Florida and I do some all year. Tthe best time to do most drastic pruning is late winter or early spring, especially of plants that are dormant or almost dormant. The only plants NOT to prune then are those that are getting ready to bloom soon, such as the azaleas. The best time to prune most flowering plants is shortly AFTER they have finished blooming.

Though I've been pruning since college days, my yard is a prime example of pruning undone and pruning done wrong. Still, pruning is necessary to encourage new growth, to re-form unshapely plants, and in my yard, to keep from growing over completely. So here are a few tips to help you.

Well pruned pommelo in the yard of Cora and Jerry Coronel.

The first thing to remember is that this is one job that is better done wrong than not done at all. Don't be afraid. No one is going to grade you and you can prune your own trees and shrubs any way you want. In the unlikely event that someone else should notice and think you'd done it wrong, you'd still be ahead. No two people prune alike in any case.

The better you shape young plant while the branches are still thin, the less you will have to worry about that plant when it is mature. So start with young trees and try to encourage the following.

  1. Allow only one trunk per tree in most cases, especially for large trees. I interviewed a woman who had a "twin tree" that almost split after the hurricane and would have fallen on two houses.
  2. Prune to keep U-shaped and remove V-shaped crotches whenever possible, for the latter are much more likely to split. If your little tree has a V-shaped crotch in the very center, select the strongest looking limb for the leader and cut the other one back by one third of its length every year until you remove it.
  3. Keep a central leader in most cases. The only times to top trees are to open the center for ripening fruit or to keep the tree from outgrowing its space.
  4. Watch grafted trees such as citrus and shrub such as roses for vigorous young growth rising from the rootstock or below the graft swelling. The rootstock is like a mother and will let this overgrow the grafted variety if you don't catch it and cut it off.
  5. As a young tree grows taller, remove the lower limbs to allow air circulation and sunshine in beneath it, unless it is a fruit tree like citrus that you want to fruit clear to ground level.
Rootstock sending up itís own kind. I did prune that off the very day Jimmy Lee discovered it. Same tree growing with the grafted variety getting all the energy. Often there is new, thin growth around the trunk that is best removed, also.

There are whole books on pruning, but none of them are written for Florida. I have two and often check directions for special plants. Sometimes there is information. Often that plant isn't listed. So here are some general rules. Remember that wherever you cut, one, two or more side branches will grow. Often by selecting a bud facing the direction you want the twig to grow will result in improved shape.

Poinciana, before. When I got this plant I was told it would freeze to the ground every year and then come back, but instead it grows as large as a tree but as bushy as a shrub. Poinciana, after, with dead, crossing, and crowding wood removed and growth headed away from the carport roof.

Long ago I devised a list of Few and Foolproof Rules for Pruning More Mature Trees and Shrubs. This includes roses, which are best pruned when most nearly dormant and before new growth starts in the spring, even if they are still blooming a bit. But even through the rest of the year, I prune some.

  1. Always use sharp, clean tools. I use a pair of hand held pruners or scissors, a long-handled lopping shears for larger cuts, and a small pruning saw for even bigger ones. If you are pruning diseased wood, you might want to dip the tool in a bleach solution between cuts, but usually this is not necessary.
  2. Remove dead, broken or diseased branches. Cut as close as possible to the cane or branch from which the unwanted twig is growing.
  3. Remove any close, crowding, or crossing branches. Look these over from end to end: usually one of those branches is inferior, and that is the one you should remove. Also remove any spindly growth and if a shrub is very crowded, remove some of the oldest, darkest canes clear back to the soil line.
  4. Then look over the plant carefully and cut it back to size, if necessary, or remove any branches that ruin its natural shape. Try not to remove more than one third of the height of a bush at one time.

If you do no more than that, you'll be doing well. And the more you do this, the more comfortable you will be. Rely on your common sense and prune for the best size, shape, and health of the plant. Do a little bit at a time and you'll soon be doing it automatically.