When and How to Prune Back Plants in the Sonoran Desert

One of the Keys to Beautiful Landscaping

By Eddie Rodieck

Proper pruning is a major component to not only keeping your plants healthy but also to ensuing your landscaping stays beautiful. Like many things in life, there is a proper time and standard for pruning plants that helps them to thrive and look their very best.

Seasonal Pruning

Now that February has arrived, we have started to schedule the pruning of plants for the end of the month to remove damage caused by the cold this winter. We wait until the end of February or beginning of March to start pruning back plants to until the odds of a frost or freeze have passed. We want to avoid the chance of further damage caused by frost before pruning because the damaged areas actually offer a buffer against the cold for the living parts of your plants.

Different Pruning Styles

There are several styles for pruning your plants. There is a manicured approach, a natural, clean style, and the rough, natural form to choose from. The quandary arises here between allowing plants to grow and flower in a more natural style in natural settings as opposed to the preferred manicured style of most commercial properties.

Commercial Properties: Pruning for Visibility, Security, and Aesthetics

With commercial properties, you will often see a manicured approach where plants are kept pruned back tightly so that they are shaped in a way to promote better visibility and security as well as for aesthetics. Commercial banks are a prime example of such a necessity particularly around outdoor ATM’s.

Consideration should be given during the design and planting phases not only for security purposes but for color and presentation. Unfortunately, consideration is often not given in commercial settings in regard to the flowering of shrubs and natural growth until it is too late. It is important to plan ahead for plant growth, natural shape, and color as well as flowering so that you can accommodate the need for visibility and security while adding color and beauty to your commercial property.

The Manicured Style

The manicured style can be easily maintained in areas where security and visibility are a necessity with regular pruning. Such commercial properties where constant pruning is necessary for security and visibility reasons may wish to consider thinning or even removing some plants. This would allow the remaining plants to be pruned in a more natural style which is less detrimental to their health and growth.

With a manicured approach, shrubs and bushes are tightly pruned. Ground cover is cropped and new growth is also cut as it develops. This often prevents plants from developing naturally which results in them taking unnatural shapes and negatively impacts their health.

Private Residences: A Natural Clean

More often than not, a natural, clean style is employed by homeowners for their private residences as well as homeowners associations. The natural clean style of pruning allows plants to grow and flourish in a more natural fashion. Foliage and colorful flowers grow more naturally with less pruning than with the manicured approach. The natural clean pruning style is most appropriate where visibility and security are not a concern.

The Natural, Clean Style

When plants are pruned using a natural, clean style, plants are topped with the development of perspective and contrast between various plant shapes and colors. The high and low characteristics of each plant is highlighted and encouraged with subtle control of its growth. This is the option most recommended by Cherry Landscape.

The Rough, Natural Style

This pruning style is best left for outlying areas of vegetation from commercial and residential properties where nature is promoted. This is also a great way to have a more natural looking garden as well that requires less maintenance.

The rough, natural style of pruning includes removing only the dead growth. This allows plants to grow in accordance with their own character without regard to its relationship to other plants.

Pruning Trees

Pruning is best done for trees after they turn three years old. The reason for waiting three years before trimming young trees is that there are auxins in the tips of tree branches that relate directly to the growth of roots. If too many are pruned too early in a tree’s life, the establishment of roots can be slowed. Trees need to be able to establish a strong root system quickly to allow them to get by with less water in drought and high temperatures. Strong roots also prevent them from blowing over in the wind.

Cherry Landscape recommends pruning trees during their dormant months. This is typically in the winter, but you may also trim them in the fall or early spring. You will begin pruning from the bottom and work your way up the tree. You can use hand pruning shears starting with the smaller branches (5/8 inch or less). Make your cuts as close to the branch you want to keep as you can.

For bigger branches, you may use a pruning saw and the three cut method. One the branch you are removing, place your blade under the branch 3-5 inches from the branch collar and cut one-quarter of the way up into the branch. Then you will place your saw on top of the branch just above where you cut underneath. Finish the cut in a downward motion to remove the branch. Now you may cut off the remaining stub. This method will allow the tree’s tissue to grow around the cut and heal more efficiently.

Trees native to Southern Arizona often have multiple trunks and you will want to maintain these in their natural form. Cutting off one or more of the trunks increases your pruning maintenance and weakens the tree. Multi-trunked trees are more resistant to wind damage and low water while also providing more cooling shade than a single-trunked tree. This leads to less moisture evaporation from the soil for all of your nearby plants.

If you still have questions about pruning or need help with pruning your plants or trees to your preferred style, please contact Cherry Landscape today at (520) 292-9776 to schedule your free consultation.