Vol.1, No.1

Gardening in containers: pruning

Learn how to prune your plant without harming it.

Pruning potted shrubs
Photo Credit: Cameron Gordon
Pruning, or cutting back, is an important step in keeping your container garden blooming and looking beautiful. If you don't cut back wilting shoots and blooms, your plant will spend all of its energy producing seeds instead of making new blooms. The more new flowers your plant produces, the more colorful and lush you container garden will look. Many flowers will bloom more than once if you keep up with the dead blooms.

Maintenance pruning:

This is the type of pruning you do when you need to help older plants keep their shape and stay at a certain size. Maintenance pruning also helps promote the continued creation of flowers.

Springtime pruning

When winter is over, your container plants will probably have several dry, long, dead, or thin shoots. Pruning the unattractive shoots in the springtime will keep this kind of shoot from spoiling the look of your plant. Keeping long stray shoots pruned also helps your plant take on a more attractive shape.

Lateral pruning:

From the shoots grow branches. Some branches never produce much in the way of flowers, some dry up and turn brown, some get way too long, and some aren't long enough. When you trim back or cut off branches you are engaging in "lateral pruning." Lateral pruning is not very noticeable, but it does make a huge difference in the shape of the plant. It is also good necessary sometimes, when a plant is overgrowing its allotted space.

Drastic Pruning:

Cutting back shoots to ground level can be devastating to plants if done incorrectly. It is usually a good idea to wait to do your major pruning until after the plant has already finished producing flowers for the season or during the rest season.

Spring-flowering plants should never be cut back in such a traumatic way. Spring flowers make new buds on the old wood from the previous year. If you cut off all of the old wood, you flower will not have a chance to create buds and may not ever recover. Cut back only the weakest shoots in these cases, and do so just after the plant has ceased flowering.

It is best to know what kind of plant you have before pruning on a large scale.

Structural Pruning: Maintenance pruning is for older plants and structural pruning should take place on young plants. The purpose of structural pruning is to help the young plant create branches, so you'll have a full, robust plant instead of a tall scraggly one.

Pruning for standards:

If you want your plants to grow as standards, there is a certain sequence you should follow when pruning. First, cut back all of the side shoots that the plant produces while it is young. Only after the plant has reached its desired height should you allow side shoots to grow. When the plant does reach its desired height, you should also snip off its growing tip. This will help the plant begin to grow and form its lateral shoots. The lateral shoots are good, but don't let them get out of control. Cut them back on a regular basis until the crown has taken on its final shape.