Not everyone loves to prune, but I do. My mother-in-law used to rant, “How would you feel if someone cut off all your fingers and toes?” after I went on a pruning spree. But when the begonias (or whatever) bristled with new growth, she beamed. I like to keep a tight ship. And I think pruning brings about a sharper picture in the long run.
I’m almost always brandishing pruning shears. Although the rampage against leggy limbs reaches its high point in spring, I hit shaggy appendages whenever they appear. In winter, plants often make stretchy growth because of diminished light. Away it goes. In autumn, when plants re-enter the house after their summer sojourn, they often become too large for their allotted space. Clip. And sometimes I just want to exercise control and encourage a plant to branch out during the summer or sprout fresh from the base in winter. Off with its head. I think good grooming spells the difference between an okay crowd of amateurs and a turned-out kick line of well-rehearsed performers.
When pruning plants, make your cut right above where the leaf blade juts out, and be sure there is a side sprout waiting in the wings to branch out. Some plants, like begonias and pelargoniums, have what we call “blind eyes” with no side shoots. They might sprout lower down or push another branch up from the base, but they will not branch just below the cut.
If pruning has you quaking in your boots, I can only say that I have never (or almost never) murdered a plant by pruning. I have ended up with some gawky specimens as a result of clueless cuts, but time healed the wounds. And I sometimes chopped too enthusiastically in winter and sent the plant into a temporary tailspin. But if you play it safe and prune in spring, you are on fairly safe ground. Your plants will have more branches and increased bloom, and will form a handsomer picture. Why would you resist?
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Tovah Martin’s newest book is no dry encyclopedic volume: Her personal, engaging writing style is as entertaining as it is informative. —Country Gardens