What is natural shrub pruning?

Natural pruning fits the natural, informal style of Pacific Northwest landscaping. Most of us like our plants to have a natural look, rather than making them into formal balls, boxes and cones.

Shearing is not the best way to prune

The typical untrained home gardener and landscape maintenance technician has one approach to pruning – clipping. Power trimmers or hedge shears are used to shape or reduce the size of shrubs. Using the shearing technique, the tips of many branches are removed quickly, which apparently saves time and expense. However, there are several drawbacks to this practice.

  1. The outer layer of the shrub has many stubs which are only covered when new growth occurs.

  2. Tip pruning in this way causes branches to develop several shoots where there was only one before (3 to 7 is typical).

  3. After 3 or more shearings, shrubs are artificially thick with 20 to 30 times as many branches as normal.

  4. All plants begin to look the same – either round balls or square boxes. Several plants growing close together become a hedge.

  5. Shrubs are typically sheared the same amount over their whole surface. Because growth is faster on the top of the shrub, soon the lower branches are shaded and lose their leaves, resulting is a “chicken leg” effect.

  6. Over-pruning stimulates shrubs to grow faster, which requires more frequent pruning.

Why Natural Shrub Pruning is Better

Natural shrub pruning preserves the natural shape and density of plants. Each shrub has its own natural growth shape. Why make all shrubs look alike? With natural shrub pruning, branches are pruned one at a time with hand pruners and loppers (with long handles – for larger branches). Pruning begins when shrubs are small, before they have outgrown their planting area and block windows or walkways. This may only require shortening one or two branches the first time.

  1. Branches are cut inside or below the leaf surface where other smaller branches hide the stubs.

  2. Instead of pruning branch tips, they are cut back to a side branch or removed entirely, keeping the same density of plant growth.

  3. Lower branches are shortened less (or not at all) than upper branches, which keeps the shrub full and leafy clear to the ground.

  4. Because many fewer branches are cut (especially after several prunings) the difference in pruning time becomes negligible.

  5. The natural shape of the shrub is retained because branches are deliberately cut at different lengths

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