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Pruning tips for roses and trees

December 29, 2001|By Tom Turini, University of California Cooperative Extension adviser

This is the time of year to prune some types of trees, vines and bushes. The way a plant is pruned will affect the appearance, longevity, and flower and fruit production.

Rose bushes will become an enormous tangle of canes with small flowers if they are not pruned annually. How much to prune will depend upon what variety you have and your personal preference. For most rose bushes, leave five to 12 canes about 20 inches long. More severe pruning will produce fewer, very large flowers with long stems, but this can weaken younger plants. If trimmed very lightly to 3 or 4 feet tall, bushes produce many short-stemmed blossoms. This technique is usually practiced on floribundas, grandifloras, first-year hybrid tea roses and slower-growing bushes of all types.

Roses should be pruned just before new leaves develop. Buds will be found just above the leaf scars and will be the source of this year's growth. The cuts should always be made at a 45-60 degree angle about one-quarter inch above the bud. The cutting edge of pruning shears should always be on the bottom of the cane to ensure a clean cut.


To prune roses, cut all dead wood, spindly canes, canes that grow toward the center of the bush or canes that jut out parallel to the ground and branch upward. Remove the weaker branch if two cross. Remove all shoots that grow from below the graft union (suckers). Always cut to a bud or remove the entire cane. Once all the undesirable growth has been pruned out, thin the remaining canes as necessary. Cut canes above a bud facing the outside of the bush.

Fig trees should be topped about 24 to 36 inches above ground level when young to encourage lateral shoot growth, which will become the structural branches. The trees should be pruned annually for the first five years to encourage upward and outward growth. Mature trees should be pruned at this time of year by thinning out branches and by cutting the tips off of long shoots to maintain the shape of the tree. However, the first crop of figs is produced at the ends of last year's shoots, so leave some full-length branches.

Olive trees should be trained while they are young by selecting one shoot as a trunk and cutting out all other shoots growing from the ground level. If not pruned, a young olive tree will put out several shoots from the ground level that may break under the weight of a heavy crop or during high winds. Leave three lateral shoots, which will become the structural branches. If olive production is the goal, these branches should be left about 12 to 24 inches above ground level. If it is to be a shade tree, you may want to train the tree so that the structural branches are further from the ground. On mature trees, the dead branches should be removed. Young branches could be removed to reduce the density of the canopy. It is better to prune a little each year than to prune severely less frequently.

Peaches and nectarines must be pruned severely every year to provide structural strength and maintain fruitfulness. For a tree in a backyard setting, a good training method will encourage the tree to grow as an open centered vase-shaped tree with one trunk and three to four main branches. At planting, cut the tree about 2 feet above the ground level. This will force the tree to produce lateral branches rather than growing straight up. During the first winter, select three to four branches that are evenly distributed around the trunk and leave several small shoots on these branches for sunburn protection. Cut the main branches to about 2 and one-half feet in length. By the second winter it will be time to select two well-spaced shoots per scaffold and remove all other growth. Again, cut these shoots back to about 2 and one-half feet in length.

Annual pruning of these trees is extremely important because it adjusts crop size and provides stimulation for shoot growth that will support the following season's crop. Begin by removing crossing branches, broken limbs and rank shoots growing straight up (water sprouts). The fruit are produced on one-year-old shoots and small horizontal branches will produce more fruit than those with upright growth. Vertically growing shoots will grow more vigorously, but will not produce much fruit. A combination of both types of branches is necessary for the fruitfulness of the tree this season and in future years. Downward bending shoots typically lack vigor and produce only a few small fruit. Remove the drooping portion of the shoot. About 50 percent of last year's growth should be pruned off peach and nectarine trees.

There are many trees that require little pruning. Citrus trees should be pruned only to remove dead wood and suckers. Mulberry, ash and many other ornamental trees should be pruned when young to establish the desired structure of the tree, but once mature, little pruning is required. In fact, severe pruning of these trees will create wounds that could serve as an entry site for certain insects and disease causing fungi that could kill the tree, and if pruned while the temperatures are high, branches will sunburn.

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