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Spring Pruning – Nipping Buds

March 11, 2016

Nipping or rolling buds is a great spring pruning trick!

Tender spring growth on crabapple

The bud casing has broken & soft leaves are forming in a poor position on the trunk of this crab apple. Rolling or pinching out this growth now is easy on you & your tree! (And you can do it even before the leaves form.)

As winter thaws into spring, so too do tight, dormant plant buds begin to melt away, allowing tender young growth to emerge. When plants are in this fragile state, it can be tough to prune them without damaging them as well. For instance, if you want to remove some interior branches of a tree, but you can’t reach those branches without rubbing against the tender buds of desirable outer growth, you’ll find yourself wishing you’d finished your cuts before the delicate growth began at winter’s end. And, at this point, it might make sense to hold off on cutting that interior branch until new growth toughens up later in the season.

But, this is the time to roll out buds to make your pruning chores easier, your plants look better and make it easier for your plants to recover from losing what you nip away.

Nipping or rolling buds is a pretty simple concept. Essentially, you use your fingers to easily pinch, nip or roll out sprouts that emerge in spots where you know you don’t want a branch to form. This pruning technique only works on young, tender growth. Once the growth begins to toughen up later in spring, you’ll need your sharp pruning tools to remove these branches without ripping, tearing and damaging your plant.

Rolling out a bud to do spring pruning

When growth is this tender, it’s as easy as rubbing your finger across the bud or pinching it at its base to do spring pruning.

Understanding which buds to remove this way is, like all pruning, a bit science and a bit art as the following images illustrate. Trees like this crab apple, flowering plums, Heptacodium, Physocarpus and many others are notorious for busting loose in all kinds of undesirable ways in spring. Fortunately, this simple pruning method will make your gardening chores much easier!

Suckers & buds on Crabapple

It’s time to roll out some buds on this crab apple branch & cut out some suckers that could have been rolled out in past years. Take a look at the close-ups that follow.  (Psst! The grey lichen on the branch is just fine. Leave it be!)

Suckering growth on crabapple

Here you can see what happens if you don’t roll out buds. Unwanted, often suckering, branches grow & now require pruning tools to remove. Doesn’t it sound easier to pinch or roll out unwanted growth right away?

focus on buds to prune in spring

In focus, you can see two buds breaking adjacent to two existing suckering branches. Left to grow, these buds will form even more unwanted suckering limbs.

Always remember: if in doubt: don’t cut it out! Once you remove a bud or a branch, you can’t put it back on your tree. So, if you’re stumped, contact us for help before you start nipping and cutting.

1 Comment

  1. Gail Browne says:

    I had no idea pruning is important for trees and I’ve never done it in my garden. I’m definitely looking closely this year and rolling some buds. Surely will ask if in doubt. Thank you for this helpful post and all the advises. Greets!

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