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Pruning horrors and mistakes

After the hard pruning of a pair of lime trees, a hornbeam and (oh my God!) a Cedrus atlantica, one of my neightbours told me: “Have you seen what a great work, doctor? A great pruning was really necessary!”. I try politely to explain that the “topping” is not the best method to reclaim a tree, but I obtain in return just a doubtful look. My neightbour is in good company. Italy is the European country for excellence where you can cut and prune with complete nonchalance. The bad example is given from the public administrations. A survey on many commons of the district of Brescia, some years ago, certified that the great part of gardening works was granted to private companies with professional qualify. The results are easily noticed: everywhere indiscriminate toppings and dangerous cuts. A topping requires half an hour, compared with the two or three of a fair cut. A tree with a slim prune becomes immediately very tall and allows to undertake on contract 3-4 m-tall trees for very young plantes. These costumers want to pay more for a more correct cut? At the end everyone thinks that the more you prune the more the work is fair, without noticing that in the reality it’s the exact contrary. A serious interpretation mistake, due to the bad habit of calling anyone with gardenings problems. If you have a broken arm, you call the doctor. But if you have to prune, you often want to hear your friend’s opinion instead of that of the agronomist.

What has always been ignored is that the trees react to the pruning with strong and vigorous jets, but at the same time they aren’t balanced and natural. This is because a light pruning is good for the tree, but a strong one let the plant to have more jets. If a branch has been cut, the tree will produce two or three branches to answer to the affront.
Moreover, the topped tree, with the same radical apparatus that held the whole tree, will feed not many new jets, which will therefore be extremely vigorous and will probably become high and long, but not so fruit-bearing. When you prune you alter the so-called “apical dominance”, in other words that phenomenon which let the shorter jets in partial dormancy, to advantage the higher ones. Cutting the dominant jet, the inibition stops and all the jets below come back in activity, creating sometimes vegetal horrors, as for example horned fir trees and pines, proliferations and so on. But it’s not through with it. In fact the sun, thanks to the photo-inibition of the auxines (the most important vegetal growth hormones), establishes length and strength of the jets, letting them grow towards the light. Let’s imagine what could happen after a wrong cut. When you look at a humanized green landscape, you become sad. And you would like to believe in Masanobu Fukuoka, Japanese “natural” agronomist, when he states that the growth of the seed trees is perfect without any human intervention. In fact he noticed that the repetition of certain growing corners and other expedients permit the maximum interception of the light. The human intervention often creates horrors and dangers. Why we prune? Because for example the innested trees has been already subjected to violenze and require an artificial regulation. Because we want to limit an excessive development (green pruning). Because we want to favor the flowering or the fructification. To make some bonsais. To favor the engraftment of a transplanting, reducing the transpiration of the leaves. To let old and weak trees acquire more vigor. To regulate a bush. To take away dead branches. To adjust the disequilibrium of the previous prunings. There are a thousand valued reasons to prune, if you know how to do it. The most important thing is to respect the armony and the development of nature.

The great part of timber trees doesn’t require any pruning, apart from some periodical cut. Despite this, everywhere there are a lot of prunings and people who don’t prune will receive disgusted looks. A good gardening planner should pay attention to the future occupation of the space of a tree. In this way you can prevent many prunings due to the tree exuberance. Timber trees as for example the Cedrus, pines and fir trees, linden trees, horse-chestnut etc should not be planted in 80 mq gardens. Who projects should know the diameters of final growth of the crown and if there’s no space enough he should persuade the costumer to renounce at some trees. The good project is visible in long time and not in thirty days. The conifers should never be pruned, apart from a light cut. Despite this, everywhere you can find a lot of topped Cedrus. The result is a stub without the top. A topped tree requires two or three years of work to let it return to the normal situation, because the messy jets that it will let out should be weaken more and more times with cuts of green pruning and winter pruning. And with a good operator, of course. As always, it’s easier to destroy than to build. At the entrance of the “pre-history park” of Rivolta d’Adda you can find the following writing: “a tree can offer a million matches , but just a match can destroy a million trees”.

In the garden, where the nature is more artificial, it is necessary ti prune. The fruit trees should in fact be shaped when they are young, with the formation pruning. It exploits the feature of the multiple reject in the cutting points, to form overlapping stands. The production pruning is, on the other hand, the one that let you obtain the maximum production of fruit in the branches. What not everyone knows is that in the fruit trees, the pruning in the older branches should be limited, if you don’t want to lose any fruit. In the cherry tree, moreover, which is very sensible, it is necessary not to use the scissors. On the other hand, in trees like vine and kiwi the pruning should be very hard. The same principle is valued for the flowering trees: Forsythia, Azalea, Kerria, Weigela, Prunus have the flowering in old branches, so they should be pruned paying more attention. On the other hand, roses, Buddleia, Fuchsia should be pruned shortly in Winter, if you want to have great flowerings. The hydrangea should regularly pruned in every garden, more than the necessary.
The Forsythia. which requires a hard cut immediately after the flowering of February-March, are on the contrary often pruned in Winter. In this way it loses the 90 % of its beautiful flowering. Rhododenrons and azaleas should not be touched in Winter. A not pruned rose, on the contrary, will become more and more slim and will have flowers on the higher branches, until it becomes weak. In other words, only expert operators who know when and how to do it should prune In the rose (and in other trees with winter prunings) it is open the discussion about when the pruning is opportune: November or February. Who prune before will have cicatrized cuts. Who prune in late on the contrary, will have the chance to choose the best branches after the cold winter temperatures. Both the opinions are right. In the end, the hedges. If you want a thick and green hedge, the cut should be frequent and light, high and in the middle. Possibly, you have to privilege the new jets which are addressed in the inside of the hedge. In this way the growth will be tidy.
On the contrary when you reduce the height of the hedge of a meter, you have to expect vigorous and strong jets and you’ll have to cut and cut more times. At the end of the season, you should cut waiting some time until the tree will make some new small jets. In this way the hedge will be smart. A few rules, but you have to follow them.


When the neophyte will learn to prune at the right moment and in the correct way, he could make grave mistakes, for example about the cutting technique. The cut should be: clean, slanting and close to a jet. How many irregular cuts I have to see when I have a look around! And how many horizontal cuts that could create spaces for stagnancy water with consequential infections! Cuts which are away from the jets could create antiaestethical woody stubs, which the tree itself will have to exclude from the lymphatic path. Good scissors and particular care will extend the life of the tree.

Who doesn’t know the features of a tree is full of illogical fears: he will fall down, he will cause dangers at the house, he’ll get ill, he’ll dirty the leaves, he’ll turn off the light, he’ll attract mice, insects and birds, he’ll importune the car. He will be induced to cut the more possible, causing disorder and failures. Let’s out brain work and cut it out! My father Luigi Oreste, psychosomatic doctor and researcher, used to say: “If you want to obtain some results, you’ll have to speak softly with cells and living organisms”. Next time we take a pair of scissors, let’s try to remember this.

SOURCE: www.vivaioclorofilla.it

Also please click on the buttons below to view a PDF as well as how to prune properly interesting trees and orchards:

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