Landscape Beauty

February 04, 2011

by Linda Langnau, Victoria County Master Gardener Intern

edited by Charla Borchers Leon,
Victoria County Master Gardener
Gardeners' Dirt

LEFT: Narrow angles on any type of tree or shrub, like on this young oak tree should be pruned off as soon as noticed.
RIGHT: Proper pruning includes removing the branch in three cuts: 1. An undercut about 8 inches from the trunk; 2. A second cut on top just outside the undercut to remove the limb and weight; and 3. A third cut at the branch-bark collar, removing the stub.
LEFT:  The properly pruned 2-inch diameter limb has callused over nearly completely covering the cut area in two years. Note the 1-inch diameter limb above has callused over and totally sealed the area.
RIGHT:  Making the final cut properly leaves the branch-bark collar allowing the bark to callus and grow quickly covering the cut area. Note that it is not a smooth, flush cut, nor one with a remaining stub.
When we ponder the who, what, where, when and how of pruning, many people have the most difficulty with "when" and then "how." As a transplanted Texan, this is especially difficult for me. When I think it is time to prune, it should have been done two months before. I'll discuss both of these.


Proper pruning enhances the beauty of almost any landscape tree or shrub while improper pruning can ruin plant growth. In most cases, it is better not to prune than to do it incorrectly, as it can weaken or deform your plant. A plant growing naturally will make the best of its location. It is the landscaper who needs to plant them for optimum growth.

Like any other skill, pruning requires knowledge. Don't take a chainsaw and massacre your plants. You must remember that pruning removes or reduces certain plant parts that are diseased, dead or unessential parts of the plant.


Pruning is the removal of a part or parts of a woody plant for a specific purpose. The reasons for pruning are to train a plant, maintain plant health, improve the quality of fruit, flowers, foliage or stems or restrict plant growth. Most of us no longer want the closely clipped, formal gardens that were formerly popular. We also do not want a jungle for our landscape. We desire low maintenance for our informal lifestyles.


Point of origin - Pruning should have a definite plan. Consider the reason or purpose before cutting begins. The skilled pruner first removes all dead, broken, diseased or problem limbs by cutting them to the point of origin or back to a strong lateral branch or shoot. This opens up the plant canopy so often no further pruning is necessary. Don't leave any stubs when pruning.

Training cuts - Next make the training cuts. By cutting back lateral branches, the tree is encouraged into a particular shape. To be properly done, you need to know the plant's natural growth habit. Remove any narrow angle branches, which trap bark between them. Later in life, narrow-branched limbs can't handle the weight and break off disfiguring the tree.

Timing - Pruning can actually be done at any time of year; however, recommendations vary with different plants. Contrary to popular belief, pruning at the wrong time will not kill most plants, but it may damage or weaken them or result in no flowers, fruit or nuts for that year. Repeatedly done, it may lead to disease or death.

The best time to prune is in late winter just before spring growth appears. The least desirable time is in the heat of the summer or drought or immediately after new growth appears. A common problem is when you prune too late (after new growth). It saps the strength of roots and stems and can cause considerable dwarfing of the plant. It is advisable not to prune in late summer as this encourages new growth that does not have time to harden off before cold weather arrives. This results in cold damage or winter kill.

Prune plants with storm damage or vandalism or dead limbs as soon as possible to avoid hazardous conditions or possible insect or plant disease problems.

Pruning paint - Generally pruning paint is not recommended or needed. The only time it is strongly recommended is when pruning oaks out of the normal dormant pruning season (January-February). Pruning out of season when the oak wilt fungus and insects are potentially active and not using a pruning paint could be a site of infection resulting in tree death. Spray with a pruning paint or use latex paint within minutes after cutting for best protection. Oak wilt has not been documented in Victoria County but is in some neighboring counties.


Knowing when your shrubs bloom is another important indicator of when to prune. Most flowering shrubs and trees are pruned after they bloom.

Spring flowers bloom on last season's growth. They should be pruned soon after they bloom. Examples of spring bloomers are azalea, rhododendron, forsythia, honeysuckle, Indian hawthorn, redbud, spirea, spring blooming climbing roses and shrub roses, Texas mountain laurel and wisteria. The exception to this are plants whose berries are desired. They should only be lightly pruned after the berries have dried up but before major growth.

Summer bloomers usually flower on spring growth. They should be pruned in late winter. This promotes vigorous shoot growth in the spring and results in more flowers. Examples of summer bloomers are althea, butterfly bush, crape myrtle, hydrangea, most roses, and vitex or chaste tree.


For most plants, the pruning season is now. So get out your pruners and start sharpening to get nice clean cuts. Spend a little time learning about your plants, and then proceed.


1)"Texas Garden Almanac" by Doug Welsh, Texas A&M University Press. 2007

2) "Texas Master Gardener Handbook" by Texas AgriLife Extension Service

For more detailed information about Earth-Kind guidelines, contact your local Extension agent.
Train a plant
Maintain plant health
Improve quality of fruit, flowers, foliage or stems
Restrict plant growth

What: Lunch and Learn with the Masters: Care and pruning of roses:
When: Noon to 1 p.m., Feb. 14
Where: Dr. Pattie Dodson Public Health Center, 2805 N. Navarro St., Victoria
Cost: Free
Lunch: Bring your lunch and drink
The Gardeners' Dirt is written by members of the Victoria County Master Gardener Association, an educational outreach of Texas AgriLife Extension - Victoria County. Mail your questions in care of the Advocate, P.O. Box 1518, Victoria, TX 77901; or vcmga@vicad.com, or comment on this column at www.VictoriaAdvocate.com.