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  • Writer's pictureMartin Ford

Pruning Without Fear

New growth (generally springtime) is the most effective time to help a plant understand/recognize the circumstances that we want it to grow into. Most plants will have large ‘lead’ buds at the tip of the previous year's shoots which are ‘designed’ to extend as far as possible during the new season. To enable this, these lead buds produce a plant ‘hormone’ which prevents lower buds from elongating – thus maximizing the resources available to this dominant shoot.

If we remove the lead bud early in the season, when it is only a few centimetres long (5 to 10cm), then the ‘hormone’ is not present to inhibit the other immature shoots below. This allows many more small branches to fill out, forming a denser canopy or surface area and avoids the need to prune large amounts of growth later in the season. It also initiates more flower bud as well as ‘spur’ formation which creates fruiting/flower potential for the years to come.

To do this simply use your fingers to pinch out the tip of the new shoot – very simple and so therefore reassuring to us that we are not damaging the plant, the primary reason people ‘fear’ pruning – especially when using a hedge trimmer or the like. The feel of pinching that tip out with our fingers is also reassuring rather using a tool – we have an uninterrupted connection to our plant. We call this pruning technique “tipping out”.

Tipping out of new shoots can be done at any time of year and so, as we pass a plant, we learn to scan the new growth and decide if now is the time to tell the plant that it has grown enough for now, and to focus on infilling its structure and on flower/fruit production. Plants in nature are used to their new shoots being browsed by animals and so we are simply affecting the plant in a way that it is genetically used to.

If, however, our design for the plant is that it grows into the space we have provided for it, then the extension growth can be left to grow to say 30cm and then tipped out. This will tell the plant to initiate the lower buds to begin growth, even if they do not extend as far as would happen if the lead bud had not been pruned/tipped out a month or so earlier.

This enables the person making the choices about the health and size of the plant to have both a larger plant and a fuller plant rather than a ‘leggy’ branch structure which can be visually frustrating – especially in an ornamental garden.

Tipping out is a pleasure – pruning is correcting a choice not made early enough.


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