What is tip pruning?
For many of our hedging plants, especially dense-growing ones like Syzygium (lillypilly) , and generally most plants that are used for screening or hedging, or feature shrubs, we recommend tip pruning while young to encourage dense growth and keep your plants looking their best.
You might be familiar with regular pruning. This involves helping a plant grow healthier by completely removing any dead wood, any sickly or weak stems, any branches that cross over or rub against each other, and any that grow in an unattractive direction.
Tip pruning is another method of helping a plant grow healthier. Instead of removing a complete branch or twig, you just snip out the very tip of each stem, about 5cm or less.
You can do this with sharp secateurs, with garden shears, or with a very fine trim using a hedge clipper. On less woody shrubs, you can even do this with your finger and thumb, by pinching out the growing tip.
Tip pruning is the method that tea pickers use to get the very best new shoots to make into tea. A side effect of this continual action is that the bushes grow very thick and dense.
Dead heading your flowering bushes is a way of tip pruning them. As the flowers fade and die, snip or pinch them out back to a leaf joint. This encourages the plant to create new side shoots with new flowering buds on them, which means more flowers in your garden for a longer time.
Why does tip pruning work?
At the end of the growing shoot on each branch of your shrub or bush is a hormone. This hormone tells the shoot to keep growing in that direction - its natural inclination is to keep growing in a straight line. This makes for a very long, thin, gangly shrub.
Once you pinch or snip out the tip of a growing shoot, that growth hormone rushes backwards into the branch. Scientists call this "breaking the apical dominance".
The growth hormone has to go somewhere, and where it goes is out of the sides of the branch, by creating new side shoots.
The more you tip prune your shrubs, the more you encourage each branch and twig to grow side shoots. Each side shoot can grow its own side shoots, and so it goes, creating an attractively dense, bushy plant for your garden.