If you own a garden, the best way to keep it in its best shape is to ensure you care for the plants in the right way to keep them healthy. Healthy plant maintenance includes undertaking all the necessary plant care processes. For anyone with plants in their yard, trimming and pruning are the most common plant care processes undertaken.
Most gardeners ask about the difference between pruning and trimming and when either is needed. These two words are often used interchangeably or sometimes used to mean cutting back. While both are necessary for plant care, they have a few notable differences. Here is a trimming vs. pruning comparison to help you better understand the difference between the two and whether one is better than the other.
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What is trimming?
Trimming is the process of cutting overgrown branches of a plant. You can trim it into the desired shape or simply maintain its original size and shape. Trimming is done for plant health reasons or purely for cosmetic ones. The most important distinction in trimming is that it is done on overgrown plants that need to be cut back into their original size and shape.
Trimming for plant health includes reducing the likelihood of pest and disease invasion. It also helps to minimize hanging and falling branches that can cause severe property damage if not handled well. Trimming is also done to encourage healthy plant growth as it rids the plant of old, unwanted branches and leaves, giving way to the growth of healthier branches and leaves.
What plants need trimming?
The most common plants that need trimming include palm trees, evergreen shrubs like bay laurel, boxwoods, and ficus plants. Trimming is mostly done to maintain the aesthetic and size of the plant than it is done to control disease and is a relatively simple process to undertake.
When trimming plants, it is essential to remember that the leaves of a plant are its power center and that shrubs and trees require foliage for sunlight absorption and to photosynthesize the soil nutrients. Therefore, it is important to avoid trimming too much foliage on the trees and shrubs and too many healthy leaves from other plants.
What is pruning?
Pruning is the process of removing some parts of a plant to keep them healthy, give them shape, increase product yield and prepare them for transplanting. This is the selective removal of parts such as flowers, buds, branches, and roots for different factors.
Pruning is done as a selective and targeted process to rid a plant of dead, diseased, or unwanted parts. It involves having the ability to tell which part of a plant is unhealthy and requires removal. The main difference between pruning and trimming is that pruning is done mostly for plant health benefits while trimming is done mostly for cosmetic reasons.
Some fruit plants require pruning to remain healthy and increase yield. On the other hand, trees require pruning to get rid of dead plants, diseases, and for safety reasons.
Trimming vs. pruning results
Pruning and trimming differ in the results you want to achieve. Determining what you want to get from the process can help choose the best plant care option of the two.
Desired results from pruning can include:
Pruning can help prevent the spread of disease among the plants in your garden or throughout an affected plant. This requires pruning single stems or multiples to arrest the problem and prevent it from spreading further.
Encouraging new growth
A good example is pruning a shrub with healthy growth on the outside but a dead center. Pruning can help eliminate dead parts of the plant without affecting healthy areas. This way, light, and air will be able to reach the center and encourage the regrowth of new, healthy stems.
Encourage a specific growth form
Pruning can also be done to encourage a plant to grow in a specific form. For instance, cutting back a small part of a plant can encourage the production of side shoots and make a plant’s foliage denser. Also, pruning stems with flowering buds diverts plant energy to the buds left on the pant, resulting in fewer, bigger flowers.
Ensuring optional growth
Pruning can also be done to encourage a shrub to continue producing fruit. For instance, a blackberry plant grows the best yield on two-year-old stems. This means that pruning back older growth can stimulate new stems at the base, extending the plant’s fruit-bearing life.
The results you can achieve from trimming are much less compared to pruning. The main thing gardeners plan to accomplish from trimming is maintaining a plant’s appearance.
The only other time trimming is done is when you want to change a plant’s form by removing many stems at once. A good example is maintaining the shape of a hedge with regular trimming. Trimming can also be used to achieve minor changes to a plant’s appearance.
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Trimming vs. pruning techniques
The techniques used for trimming and pruning are also differentiating factors between the two.
The main difference is that pruning is done to a stem at a time, requires precision to prevent causing damage to the plant, and must be carefully planned to get the desired results.
On the other hand, trimming is undertaken on the entire plant without trimming individual stems. Care is advised to ensure you achieve the results you want.
In pruning, you can either do heading cuts o thinning cuts.
Heading cuts are used when you want to stimulate plant growth. When done correctly, the bud left below the cut should continue to grow. The direction pointed by the bud determines the direction of the stem growth. Therefore, if you need a plant to grow facing your house, you can prune it above the bud facing your home.
Thinning cuts in pruning are ideal if you want to remove stems or branches without stimulating further growth. These cuts are made where branches meet the rest of the plant. (Source)
The technique used for trimming depends on the plant species and the form the plant has been trained to grow.
For instance, cutting a formal box hedge requires you to mark out the shape at the bottom using stakes. You will then tie a string to the stakes to outline your desired size, ensuring the top part is not wider than the bottom.
The string acts as your guide as you turn the trimmer over the plant’s outer layer, ensuring you do not sink it too deep into the plant. Trimming cuts are usually light, gentle sweeping motions moving from the bottom up. Moving the trimmer top to bottom may result in unwanted branch tearing or cutting.
Trimming vs. pruning equipment
Pruning is a process that uses small, sharp tools that are easy to manipulate for precision cutting. You can also use your fingers to prune, especially when pinching out unwanted parts of small plants.
Depending on the stem size and thickness, you can decide to use a lopper, pruner, or pruning saw. These tools can make precision cuts one step at a time.
For trimming, you can make use of a power trimmer or large hand shears. These allow you to cut through multiple stems at a time.
Which method should I choose?
Both trimming and pruning are important aspects of any plant’s health and care and cannot be used in place of one another. Ultimately, all plants require trimming and pruning to achieve different results throughout their lifespan. Through this trimming vs. pruning comparison, you now understand the differences between the two processes and when to undertake each.