Is It Pruning Time Yet?

Magnolia photo by Janice Wallace

I don’t know what the weather’s been like where you live, but here in Wisconsin, we’ve had a long stretch of record-setting high temperatures. Just as we’ve been enjoying these warm, sunny days, so have the plants. Magnolias, forsythias, crocuses, daffodils and many other bloomers are flaunting their springtime best, and in some places, the grass is growing so profusely, folks have already fired up their lawn mowers.

This balmy weather has caused extra excitement among us gardeners, since all we want to do is get a jump-start on our spring chores. (Yard work seems a lot more novel when, at this time of year, many of us are usually bracing for one last blizzard or two.)

The notion of doing chores got me thinking about this season’s typical backyard checklist and, for a lot of us, one of the items in particular seems to be shrouded in mystique (or laced with confusion). You know exactly what I’m talking about…


Timing is everything when it comes to this important chore, and sometimes it’s hard to keep the timeline straight. We worry about pruning the wrong shrub too early, thus ruining its springtime show, or chopping the branches too far down, sometimes a fatal mistake (for the plant, that is).

Well, it just so happens that two books dedicated exclusively to this dicey subject are on their way to a bookstore near you (and, of course, on the Web) in April. Both are part of reference series penned by expert gardeners who happen to live in the UK, but whose advice is just as valuable across the pond.

Pruning & Training by Geoff Hodge

Pruning & Training by horticulture writer Geoff Hodge (published by Mitchell Beazley/Octopus) offers a straightforward look at this chore. The 192-page primer is packed with images and info on all things pruning, from the what and the when to the where and the how. It begins with a section on pruning basics that familiarizes readers, first-timers and green thumbs alike, with the author’s chief pruning rules and the tools and tricks he suggests. From there, Hodge breaks it into chapters based on the variety of plant that needs trimming — “Ornamental Shrubs” and “Fruit Trees & Bushes,” for example — and details the techniques that address plants’ growing habits in that particular group, say, how to cut back evergreen shrubs or how to whip a neglected fruit tree into shape. We’re especially fond of the handy where-to-trim drawings and the Pruning Directory, which features specific advice on 160 common plants, some of which are bound to be growing in your yard presently.

Pruning, Training, and Tidying by Bob Flowerdew

The second book, Pruning, Training, and Tidying, comes to us from Bob Flowerdew (whom the Daily Telegraph dubs “the patron saint of organic vegetable growers”), and is published by Skyhorse Publishing. Here, the author focuses strictly on pruning 101 and touts the book as a lay-person’s guide that strives not to overwhelm with details. Without belaboring the point, Flowerdew is thorough and provides plenty of guidance, ensuring that readers will feel confident when wielding a pair of loppers. Organized differently than Hodge’s, Pruning, Training, and Tidying‘s sections are based on what function the trimming will serve, whether ornamental or functional, such as “Pruning for Training” and “Productive Garden Pruning.” There’s also a chapter on pruning by plant type, which includes lists of plants (mostly using botanical names) that all benefit from certain cutting techniques. The book’s 112 pages are splashed with eye-catching graphics, making it a fun read.

We’ll let you decide which book is more your speed, but in our opinion either of these guides (and the rest in the series) would make a fantastic addition to any garden library. Do you have other books on pruning to recommend? Share them in the comments below.

Happy reading!

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