Pruning cuts-how to get them right! Part 1.

It’s the time of year we all start pruning the dormant summer and autumn flowering shrubs and trees and getting the pruning cuts can be crucial for some plants for so many reasons. First of all you have to remember that you are being a surgeon on the plant and you would hate to have someone cutting you up with a blunt tool so make sure the tool you are using is not only sharp (will be featuring a bit of sharpening soon) but clean as well, if in doubt, just spray it with so household cleaning product that kills 99.9% of all know germs dead! You know the one I mean.

Now one thing to remember is that all plants don’t heal themselves but work to reduce the damaged area to stop fungi and other diseases entering the plant. The plant first of chemical process that reduces the risk of the wound becoming infected and then it callus over in time using callus cell in the stems of the plant. This all depends on the type of shrub or tree you are pruning. Some plants can have very thin bark with a thinner layer of callus cells that can mean the cut takes much longer to heal, roses and beech trees are good examples of this. There is a difference on age of the wood too, the younger twiggy wood doesn’t heal at the wound but near the next available bud. Again that something worth remembering for in a bit.

For this next bit, I am focusing on using secateurs and loppers and will do a bit of using saws later.

First thing to look for is whether the buds are opposite each other or alternate (see pictures) this does change the angle of the cut. With plants that buds are opposite, its best to cut level just top of the buds so basically you don’t damage them. The plant will boast either one or both these buds into life in the spring. Now with alternate buds, you are looking at taking a sloping cut away just above the bud and angled so the bud is at the top of the slope. Some people think that you do that to allow the water to drain away but that’s not the main reason why, it’s done like that so the plant pushes the sap into that bud and allows that bud to break. The cut should be ideally no more than 10mm above the bud as any more above it can result in die back and the stem dying back past that next bud and down to the next, leaving more dead wood in the plant to attract in diseases. One thing to remember though, no one can get it right all the time, not even us professionals, the idea is to aim to get it right most times and try and achieve at least 80% good cuts. Hopefully the pictures below will explain a bit more.

A rose has alternative buds, as you can see there’s no bud opposite

While this Hydrangea has its buds opposite each other

When pruning plants with opposite buds, you aim for a level cut just above the top of the bud

This picture shows the dieback from poorly angled cuts for a rose that has alternate buds. notice the church window of doom and also the damage down into the next bud at times

The alternate bud cut at the right angle with the blue lines showing what is happening to the sap and how it pushes it towards the bud to encourage that one to break.

Well that’s the end of the first part, next time we shall look at using a pruning saw and how to make the bigger cuts with that.

18 Comments Add yours

  1. tonytomeo says:

    I get rid of my pruning cuts by pruning them out.

    1. thomashort says:

      Ahh but are the first ones right or the second ones even better???

      1. tonytomeo says:

        I don’t know. Maybe I should just cut it down and eliminate the evidence.

  2. n20gardener says:

    So very very useful. Really helpful to know about the younger twiggy growth dying back differently. Thanks

    1. thomashort says:

      Thank you and so pleased you found it useful 😀

  3. fredgardener says:

    great article and I realized that I cut as you described! For a non professional, reading books and on websites has been helpful for learning! I’m waiting for the next part now …

    1. thomashort says:

      Thank you Fred, so pleased you found it useful, it’s always reassuring to know you have got it right isnt

  4. John Kingdon says:

    Thanks, Thomas, for instalment 1 of what promises to be a very useful series. My only worry is that in the collective photo of your pruning equipment, you have included a clearly substandard (i.e. not Niwaki) set of secateurs. I’ve been pruning those slanted cuts above the single buds for as long as I can remember but, surprisingly, only now has the science behind the technique actually sunk in to my cerebral vortex! 😉

    1. thomashort says:

      Thank you John, yes it was sadly an older picture, I couldn’t find a newer one anywhere in my collection of photos, hangs head in shame.

  5. David Stone says:

    I’ve been using Felco secateurs for well over 40 years now, although I did start pruning very young.(I think I was 6 months old!) Felco’s are fine as long as they are regularly maintained and sharpened. Looking forward to learning about your sharpening techniques in the future. Keep it coming, Tom!

    1. thomashort says:

      Evening Dad, will have to let you have a play with a pair of mine but yes agree they are good regularly looked after, must admit I thought I would never change, yes hoping to cover sharpening on the last one in a few weeks time, so pleased you are enjoying them

  6. Thanks for this helpful blog Thomas. Am I ok to prune an Escallonia this month?

  7. AM says:

    Thanks, this is really helpful to us as novice allotmenteers

    1. thomashort says:

      So pleased you found it useful, adding the saw part later on today as well, I hope that may help you as well 😀

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