As long as gardeners have been cultivating crops they have been developing various techniques in order to manipulate their crops to suit their needs.

This in part is what agriculture, horticulture, viticulture, and every other culture does – manipulate functions and factors in nature in order to achieve an objective. One could even go so far as to call it a science.

If truth be told, all life has but one objective – and that is to go forth and multiply. If a plant or tree is left alone a middling would be reached. Without pruning the crops it would translate into small fruits and a low yield.

Pruning is just another of these manipulation techniques.

Most of us are aware of the most severe pruning technique, as applied to the Bonsai. However, we don’t associate the Bonsai with pruning – we see cute little Oriental trees. But, the Bonsai is an ultimate example of using pruning techniques in order to manipulate and force a plant to suit the whims of its master. However, we will have to leave the fascinating world of Bonsai for another time.

What are the fundamental horticultural reasons for pruning?

It’s easy enough to answer: increased crop production, manipulating the fruit-bearing or blooming season, manipulating the size and quality of the fruit or blooms, and making harvesting the crop as easy as possible.

Now let us look at how pruning helps us achieve our objectives.

When pruning, we are effectively placing a normal healthy plant under just the right amount of stress in order for it to feel threatened. When threatened, this plant begins to fight for its survival. It starts to put a large amount of energy into reproduction. Which is what we want, as it leads to an increase in flower production and an increase in fruit and seed production.

Rose pruning is normally done in the latter part of July, or early August.

If frost is prevalent, rose pruning is done later in August as the pruning stimulates the production of new shoots, and these are highly susceptible to frost damage.

Pruning of roses is normally done only once a year and is not at all that complicated. I tend to be quite heavy handed when it comes to rose pruning and I’ve had people wonder if my poor roses would recover from the shock of this harsh treatment.

The easiest way to explain the ideal shape for a rose is to visualise a good old red wine glass. The base of the glass representing the root stock, safely tucked away under a good mulch of about 5 to 10 centimetres thick. All good upstanding wine glasses have a sturdy stem, and an open bowl. So too must your roses – they must have a sturdy stem, and an open bowl, allowing in as much light as possible.

Before we start, we need three main pruning tools: a good quality pair of pruning shears, a good solid pair of loppers, and a sharp pruning saw.


First step, we remove any dead or diseased material, cutting back to a healthy stem. After all the dead and diseased wood is removed we prune away all water shoots and any other unwanted material stemming from the base of the plant. In order to keep that good red wine glass shape, we pick three or four main branches, preferably first or second year growth. It is good to cut away the older growth – third year and older – in this way we keep our plants young and healthy. The three to four leaders we have chosen are then cut back to a healthy bud that faces outwards at between 30 to 45 centimetres above the ground. Both Floribunda and Hybrid Tea Roses can be pruned in the same manner although some people like to leave Hybrid Tea roses a little taller.

When making a pruning cut be sure to remember the following:

  • Cut back as close to the bud as possible without damaging it.
  • Cut back at a slant of about 30 degrees away from the bud as this  allows water to drain away from the bud.
  • Make a clean and decisive cut.

If we leave too much material above the bud this results in die-back to the bud, which could be a point for pest and pathogen infestation.

Very important: all cuts are to be made as close to the main stems as possible. This is achieved by placing the blade of the shearer or lopper against the stem, drawing the anvil to move across, and executing a close cut. It is always best to cut out older hard wood with a pruning saw.

There is a lot of debate as to whether or not to use wound sealant.

Some believe it to be imperative, others not. I would consider it to have some merit, provided you apply it to the wound immediately. Personally, I do not use a wound sealant. I rather keep my tools clean and sharp, disinfecting them with mild bleach if I suspect unhealthy pests are lurking.

After pruning it is always good practice to spray pruned roses with lime sulphate. Apply at the prescribed rates, and as soon after pruning as possible. If left until after the shoots develop, burning will occur on the new shoots.

As I have hopefully convinced all of you to start introducing edible plants to your garden, let’s look at the basics of fruit tree pruning – peaches, apples, plums, apricots, pears and citrus.

The most common factor with all fruit trees is that we don’t want our trees to be big or tall. The taller the tree, the more difficult the harvest as a lot of the fruit will be inaccessible. It is key to always allow in a lot of light and air into the tree as this is essential for good fruit production.

The first few years of the tree’s life are dedicated to the shaping and formation of a good frame. Just like roses, the ideal shape is a red wine glass. A good solid trunk with three to five good lateral branches. Most trees display apical dominance so it would be necessary to remove the main leader (main branch), leaving the three to five good side branches to form the bowl of your wine glass.

Fruit trees bear fruit on young wood, and as trees are also pruned annually just before the sap begins to rise (late July or early August), it is not easy to destroy the tree with rigorous pruning.


Again we first remove any diseased or damaged wood. Next we remove any branches that may shade or cross each other. We then prune back the leaders to reduce the overall height of the tree. Each branch should be pruned to resemble a herringbone – that is with all the upper and lower branches removed; only allowing the ones on the left and right of the leader to remain. In this way we keep the centre open, allowing for maximum light and air penetration. This method is totally acceptable for the general gardener resulting in a tidy, well-kept form that is easy to harvest, and pleasing to the eye.

Pruning techniques in orchard production could vary depending on the fruit, the plant spacing, and even the method of picking.

We will look at other varieties and cultivars as and when they are featured seasonally in future. As a young boy I remember my father’s apricot trees, never pruned, and towering above me. They were always laden with fruit the size of golf balls. My goodness, we might have had apricots the size of tennis balls had the old man actually applied some pruning!

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