Did You Know… the 4-D System to Simplify Pruning

— Written By Nicole Sanchez and last updated by Pam Brylowe

Now is the time to prune shrubs and trees that bloom or fruit on new wood. Pruning is both an art and a science. With entire books written about pruning styles for different types of plants, the process can be overwhelming, especially if the shrub or tree in question has not been pruned for a good while. It can be difficult to see what to cut to get the desired shape, and once executed, a cut cannot be undone! That’s where the four D’s come in to simplify things. Cut the four D’s first- once they are out of the picture, its often much easier to see what cuts should follow to get a natural, pleasant shape.

Dead: Cutting dead material out of the plant first not only gets it out of the way, but reduces opportunities for insects and disease to gain a foothold.
Diseased: If it is weak, spindly, has visual symptoms of disease, or looks abnormal compared to the rest of the plant, get it out of there. Keep a solution of 10% bleach water handy to dip pruners in after each cut. This way, you won’t re-infect the plant at the new cut.
Damaged: Remove branches and plant parts damaged by storms, animals, kids, and any other type of physical damage. In addition to being unattractive, damaged material is often an entry point for disease and insects, and can lead to problems down the road.
Deranged: Remove “nonconformist” branches that rub against the trunk or other branches, that point the wrong way, that cross other branches, and those that arise from the base of the plant when they should not. This type of growth is not adding to the aesthetic value of your plant.

Once you have removed all of the four D’s, it should be much easier to decide where to make shaping cuts. This approach will lead to much more attractive, natural looking trees and shrubs than going in and just taking material off the top and sides. Having those “D’s” out of the way makes it easier to plan for cuts that will allow for air flow and take advantage of the tree or shrub’s healthiest leaders. Lastly, make sure to cut at as close to a forty-five degree angle as possible, and don’t leave stubs! Following this system greatly simplifies pruning and leads to better results.

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This article will be published in the Jones Post newspaper on February 21, 2013 and was written by Nicole Sanchez, Area Agent – Commercial Horticulture.