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Bottom Pruning Techniques – The Do’s and Don’t

Pruning is an activity used for various reasons among gardeners, agriculturalists, and horticulturalists. The primary reasons for pruning involve improving plant health, restricting growth, and improving the quality of the flowers and fruits produced.

Bottom pruning involves snipping away leaves from the base of a plant and is used when you want to protect the plant from pathogens in the soil, particularly when transplanting. It’s also used to get clearance around the base of the plants so that they’re easy to water and to increase fruit yields.

In this article, we’ll explain what bottom pruning is and go into more detail about its benefits, how you can bottom prune your plants, and when you should use this technique for your plants and trees.

Photo of a gardener bottom pruning an Apple tree
Photo by Elena Loginova Loginova

What is Bottom Pruning?

Bottom pruning is a pruning technique by which leaves or stems from the bottom half of the plant are typically cleared about six inches (15 cms) from the base of the stem upwards.

Clearing the leaves doesn’t need too much thought, but you do have to be mindful before deciding if a stem needs to be pruned or not. Before cutting away, consider the purpose of the plant and what your goals are for it.

If you intend to harvest more fruit, and having multiple stems encourages a larger yield, then you shouldn’t prune the stems at the base. However, these stems won’t bear fruit in some plants, like tomatoes or coffee plants, and are called sucker stems. In such cases, you should cut the stems away.

As with any gardening activity, you should take care so that your pruning doesn’t damage the health of your plant.

What is the Benefit of Bottom Pruning?

Like any other pruning technique, bottom pruning has several advantages for the plant.

Some of the benefits of bottom pruning plants include protecting them from pathogens in the soil, making it easier to water them, and improving the airflow around the soil and their appearance.

Here is a little more information on how bottom pruning benefits plants.

Protects Plants and Trees from Pathogens

Leaves at the base of the plant are particularly vulnerable to pathogens, especially as they age and start withering away.

Removing dead, diseased, deranged, and damaged parts of a plant are the 4Ds of pruning. This is particularly important when it comes to dying or diseased leaves near the base of the plant because the leaves have fewer protections against pathogens than the hardier stems.

Even if the leaves aren’t dying or diseased, the ones at the base tend to be most prone to damage, creating open wounds. These wounds are then easy entryways for pathogens.

Makes it Easier to Water Your Plants

It’s recommended that you should water your plants as close to the base as possible. Most gardening experts suggest watering plants through drip irrigation or soaker hoses so that the water stays at soil level and water loss is reduced.

Watering plants close to the base of the plant ensures deep watering, allowing the roots to absorb to their full capacity instead of the water running off over the leaves and through the soil outside. Watering at the base also reduces the amount of water lost through evaporation, ensuring that there’s no wastage and your plants are well watered.

Bottom pruning helps with this by clearing the space around the base of the plant, letting you get your watering can or hose right up to the base.

Improves Airflow Around the Soil

While watering your plants is important, ensuring that the roots are not suffocating is also important.

Root suffocation can occur if the excess water isn’t being drained from the pot, causing the soil to become compact, which chokes the roots. To prevent this suffocation, there must be sufficient airflow around the base of the plant so that the excess water won’t drown your plant’s roots.

Clearing up the leaves at the base of your plant through judicious bottom pruning makes room for airflow around the soil, keeping it well aerated.

Increases Fruit Yields

Pruning is a time-tested method to improve fruit yields in plants. When it comes to plants like tomatoes or coffee, stems grow at the base, called suckers. These sucker stems don’t bear fruit but still consume resources. When you prune the sucker stems, the energy and resources can then be diverted to produce more fruits

In older plants, the number of fruits might increase, but the size of these fruits might become smaller. In such a situation, bottom pruning helps reduce the demand for resources by branches, letting the plant put more energy into its fruits.

Improves Your Plant’s Appearance

As mentioned earlier, leaves at the base of the plant tend to be most prone to damage, either due to pathogens or being knocked around when being watered or moved. The leaves at the bottom also tend to be older leaves, which are the first to fall prey to disease and the natural processes of decay.

Bottom pruning is not only healthy for your plant; it’s also a good way to ensure that your garden doesn’t look unsightly because of diseased or decaying leaves.

How to Bottom Prune Plants

Bottom pruning plants isn’t difficult at all. All you need to do is gently remove the leaves and stems near the base of the plant.

Here are a few things to keep in mind when you’re bottom pruning your plants.

  • Only prune up to six inches (15 cms). Don’t go higher than six inches (15 cms) above the base of the plant. Any higher, and you’ll risk removing far too much foliage and affect the plant’s capacity for photosynthesis.
  • Use clean tools or hands. Since you’re pruning to protect the plant from pathogens, it’s especially important to ensure that the tools you’re using and your fingers are clean. This way, you won’t introduce any pathogens to your plants inadvertently.
  • Keep the cut small and neat. Pruning, while necessary, is still a wound to the plant that it’ll have to heal. It’s also a potential entryway for pathogens. By keeping the cut small and neat, you’ll make it easier for the plant to heal the cut and recover quickly before pathogens have a chance to enter.
  • Keep pruning to a minimum. You shouldn’t prune more than a fourth of the plant because, at that stage, you’ll severely impact the plant’s ability to produce the resources it needs to live.

When Should You Bottom Prune Plants?

Just like every other pruning technique, bottom pruning must be done mindfully.

You should bottom prune your plants after they’ve grown at least 10-12 inches (25-30 cms), when you see damaged or decaying leaves at the base, when you want to increase fruit size or yield, when it’s harder to water the plant because of the foliage, or when you want to move your plant.

Damaged, diseased, or decaying leaves are entry points for pathogens and must be removed immediately. Removing sucker stems and leaves will increase fruit size and yield, and clearing the base of foliage will make it easier to water the plant right at the base.

When your plant is ready to be transplanted, it’s good to bottom prune it because it makes it easier for you to move it without risking damage to the leaves and subsequent exposure to disease.

While you should bottom prune plants whenever you feel necessary, be careful not to over prune.

Closing Thoughts

Bottom pruning is a technique where leaves and stems can be removed from the base of a plant that has grown to about 10-12 inches (25-30 cms) in height. This technique is useful to protect the plant from diseases, helps increase fruit yields, and improve the plant’s health and overall appearance.