Monday, July 27, 2009

Gardening 101: How to Prune

By request from a good friend, here are a few pointers on pruning. What we're looking at here is basil.

So. On almost every plant you'll come across-- bush, tree, or flower-- you need to be careful where you cut. On basil, at the base of every set of leaves you'll see dormant leaf buds. You can see them in the picture below, although in our recent heat wave they've opened. If you prune basil back to just above (maybe a 1/4 inch) above a set of leaves, these dormant leaf buds will be activated, and will grow into TWO new stalks. (Like a hydra, but yummy.) This holds for trees and bushes too- wherever you cut, that branch will die back to the first set of dormant buds, which will sprout out. To minimize dead plant matter, and the chance for disease, cut close to a set of dormant buds. Of course, if you're pruning something like boxwoods or other thick hedge shrubs, just go ahead and shear it- it will be so bushy, and the leaves are so close together, this really won't matter. But it WILL be bushy.

***This is a good trick if you want your azaleas to be a MASS of flowers, for about a week, in the spring. Shear them into a uniform shape and watch the show next spring! It will all be over in about a week, but it's very impressive. Of course, azaleas not pruned like this will flower for an extended amount of time, as different flowers mature and die. Your call.***

***This is also a good trick to remember for flowers. When they're young, pinch them back to 2 or 3 leaf sets a time or two before letting them grow big, and you'll have nice bushy flowers. Great for fuchsias!

I think the reason these opened is that we're in a heat wave, and the plant is doing everything in its power to produce flowers and reproduce before it dies.

You can see the flowers in the second picture. However, in herbs, lettuces, and other plants we want for their leaves and not their flowers, we don't WANT them to flower. The plant will put all available energy into flower production, leaving the leaves bitter and woody. So make sure you harvest well before that point! The same is true for root vegetables- if your radishes or turnips flower, you might as well put them in the compost pile. I don't know if they can be saved by pinching back the flowers.

So there you go. When cutting plants, cut close to a leaf set or branch, to encourage bushy growth, head off unwanted flowering, and minimize chance for infection to your plant.

Oh, and make pesto. Lots and lots of pesto.

PS- If you're growing cilantro, go ahead and let it flower at the end of the season so you can harvest coriander.

PPS- I let my lemon balm flower this year, as I can never figure out a way to use it. Can anyone disabuse me of this notion?

PPS- Don't forget to sign up for the giveaway! Deadline is Friday :)
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Su said...

Ok, don't quote me on this, but I think lemon balm is a natural mosquito repellent. You rub the leaves on your skin to leave a residue that keeps the bugs away.... I think. Someone else who actually has lemon balm can probably tell ya! :)

Great article!

Aunt LoLo said...

Now you know. And knowing is half the battle.

(The other half being effective THINNING, which I neglected this year, so pruning was pretty much a moot point as all of my herbs are single stalks, and 1-4" tall. Ouch.)

Ticia said...

Thanks for the good tips. I'm just learning how to garden. Lemon balm is supposed to make a good tea. Or, that's what I've been told.

Elizabeth G. said...

Hey, Myrnie -

You've got to be kidding about it being 100 degrees where you are! How did that happen? No wonder you are in the basement! Thank goodness you have one!!

It's suppose to cool off tomorrow - Hurrah!

Hey, I never knew that about the pruning - the correct way and all. Thanks for telling us!
Have a cool day, if possible -

Casey said...

So helpful! Now I just need it to cool down enough for me to want to venture outside...

Sam said...

Okay, what about my poinsettia bush? How to keep it from dying in the summer (it's hot here!) before it can flower in winter?

And why do my Mr. Lincoln roses grow like crazy after the winter cut-back and feeding, then never again during the summer, even if I feed them?

Inquiring non-green thumbs want to know. ;)

Alexandra said...

Good tips! I use my lemon balm in tea, or as a tea. i noticed ours no longer smells as strongly as it did in the spring. I wonder if it's because I let it flower?

Gina said...

That's great info! I never knew that-I've always just kind of randomly pruned. I guess I'll do things different now!

Hope you're cooling off, I think a break in the heat is coming!