Pruning Basics

There are many reasons to prune a plant. Removing dead wood will reduce risk from falling branches and improve plant health. Landscapers usually shape a plant for aesthetic reasons, or to direct growth away from your home. Farmers often prune to harvest fruits and vegetables.

Tools of the trade. A few common tools we use to prune are: pruner, long arm, serrated sickle, hand saw, pruning pole, gas shear and chainsaw. Remember to keep them clean, sharp and in good working order. Proceed with caution whenever using any type of sharp tools.

Think A shape. Think before your trim! How would you like your shrubs and hedges to look? We recommend trimming shrubs in an “A” shape. The bases of plants will thin out if you undercut them. You want your shrubs & hedges full for screening and to hide bare areas of soil and suppress weeds. Use shears for fine leaf plants, such as mock orange, privet, and hand pruner for large leaf plants, such as panex and crotons.

Common Sense Tip. Think: “Where will that branch go after I cut it?” Make sure you, another person, your child, your car, or something important are not going to get smooshed by a falling branch.

Trimming Tropicals: Ginger, Heliconia, Banana. Once these plants bloom the stalk dies. Use a serrated sickle to cut close to ground level, about 2” – 4” high. This stimulates growth by providing light to the base of the plants. Cut right the first time, even when cutting flowers for arrangements, to avoid doing a double job. Also, there’s nothing worse than leaning in to your plant and getting stuck in the eye by a tall stalk.

Bamboo. Don’t forget to give your bamboo some love too. Remove old stalks that are browning and have insects, such as scale. Remember to cut low, just like with tropicals. Some people like to “top” their bamboo and cut it lower than it wants to grow. Topping, or removing the upper portion of a bamboo, gives a fluffy, leafy top to the bamboo. The stalks that have been topped will never grow vertically again. It’s all personal preference whether you choose to top your bamboo or not. For the most part at Mulkern Nursery, we like the natural look at just thin out dead stalks.

Bromeliads are like the tropicals above; once they flower, they die. Leave older plants in place until keikis develop because they use the mother plant for nourishment. Remove old leaves with a serrated sickle. Bromeliads support a unique ecosystem, they trap water in their leaves, attract thirsty insects and predators such as lizards and birds that eat the insects.

Always clean out interior of plants. Remove dead wood and small interior branches in trees and shrubs. Remove dead stalks in tropicals and bamboos too. Leaves need sunlight to grow and air circulation throughout to stay healthy. When sun and air can penetrate a plant, it’s less likely to have problems with insects or disease.

Safety is important. Before you start, make sure that you have all necessary safety gear. If you will be using a chainsaw or gas shear always read the instruction manual before you use it. Within our company, our employees are required to use chaps, safety glasses and ear protection.

Adopt a no climb policy. We encourage our employees to keep two feet on the ground at all times. If something is out of reach, use the pruning pole. If you still can’t reach it, it’s time to call a certified tree trimmer or arborist. Serious injuries occur when climbing trees without proper training and appropriate safety equipment.

Don’t forget: Mulkern Landscaping is one of the leading landscaping companies in Honolulu. If you need help with landscape maintenance, design, or installations, give us a call!