Pruning Like the Pros


Pruning can be a little tricky if you don't do it very often! Here are 4 quick tips to help you prune like the pros!

Prune Some Plants Now, And Others Later

Generally speaking, if a shrub or tree blooms early in the spring, you do not want to prune it in the winter (or in early spring before it blooms, for that matter) because you will be removing flower buds.  For a list of plants to avoid pruning right now, see table 1 in this wonderful article

Some trees are also prone to "bleed" sap when they are pruned in the early spring. The sap is hard to wash out of clothing, sometimes has a bad smell, and will coat tools.  The simple solution is to prune trees like maples, birch, dogwood, and elm in mid-summer to late fall. 

Use The Right Tools the Right Way (and Make Sure They're Sharp)

Using the wrong tools or using dull tools will damage the plant.  My basic pruining tools include bypass pruners, extendable handle loppers, hedge shears, and a 13 inch pruning saw. I use the bypass pruners the most, so I invested in a good pair from Felco, and I completely love them.  The rest of my tools are made by Corona, and I find them to be of good quality as well.

Maintain your tools if you notice that they aren't cutting cleanly or are difficult to use.  And, if you prune a plant part that is diseased, make sure to rinse the blade with rubbing alcohol to disinfect it before using the tool again. 

If you are new to pruning, I strongly encourage you to read up on some basic pruning techniques, and also to avoid using power pruning tools.  Power tools can go really fast, and if you aren't exactly sure what you're doing you may end up removing more the plant than you want.  I see evidence of this time and time again when I work on client properties.

Focus on Dead, Diseased, and Crossing Branches

It can be overwhelming to look at a shrub or small tree and decide what to prune.  It's easier, though, if you break it down into steps.  

First, remove dead branches. Usually these branches will look different from the rest, and many times they will snap off by hand.  

Next, remove anything that looks diseased.  It could have holes bored in it by insects, it could have cankers on it, it could have dark scales.  If the color or texture looks significantly different from the other branches, it may be wise to remove it.  If you aren't sure, you can take a picture of the branch and send it to the local extension office for advice. 

Crossing branches are branches that rub against each other, or that criss-cross over each other.  These branches will grow thicker with time, and may eventually touch. This isn't healthy for the plant, and can lead to increased vulnerability to diseases and pests.  With crossed branches, it is a little bit of a judgement call on which to remove.  Keep in mind the overall appearance of the plant, and prune off branches that take away from the attractiveness or strength of the tree or shrub.

Move Around and Step Back

Moving around to prune different areas of the plant and stepping back regularly is incredibly, incredibly important.  It is very easy to over-prune one part, and if you are constantly moving around the plant to work you can keep yourself from doing this.  

Stepping back helps you get an idea of which areas could use a little more pruning, and which areas are done.  Remember to also walk around the plant so you can see how it looks from different angles!  I also find it helpful sometimes to have  fellow gardener or the client look at the plant with me, just to provide a different viewpoint.  

The best advice I can give, though is to just do it!  That's the best way to gain confidence.  If you can find a class (perhaps though your local extension office) that's a great option.  Some local landscape design companies (like mine!) offer classes too. 

Will you be doing any winter pruning? Do you feel confident about it, or unsure about exactly what to do?

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Linda KelsoComment