Sunday, February 24, 2013

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Winter Pruning: 5 Tips for Making the Kindest Cut

Pruners cutting a redbud branch
It's time to do winter pruning.

With the official start of spring barely three weeks away, it’s time to get out and do some pruning. Not only is it easier to see the branch structure of a tree or shrub before the leaves emerge, but the plant will be able to heal the cuts before major pests emerge.

Still I always seem to put off my pruning because I want to make sure I'm removing just the right branches. Hey, once it's gone, it's gone. You can't glue a branch back on. Trees and shrubs are amazingly resilient though, and will recover in no time flat.

Here are five tips to help you make the kindest cut.

1)  Use a sharp, sterilized blade. You'll cause the least amount of damage to the tree or shrub. Spray rubbing alcohol on the blade between cuts to avoid spreading any disease that might be on the branch.

2)  Remove suckers, water spouts and wood that's either dead or diseased. Suckers form at the base of the trunk and need to be removed annually. Ditto for water spouts. These look like branches that head straight up from the branch. When looking for deadwood, check out the buds on the branch. They should look healthy rather than dried up or sunken. If you're not sure, take your fingernail and lightly scratch the bark. If you see green underneath, the branch is alive.

3) Remove crossing and rubbing branches. This is tough because you often have to cut living wood. It's important, though, to create a good structure for the tree or shrubs. Think of the framework used to build a house. You're trying to do the same thing. Think line drawing.

4) Prune, don't shear. When many people want to shape or limit the height of a tree or shrubs, they simply cut off the tips of the branches. A rounded shape or a flat-topped hedge is usually the result. This process is called shearing and you'll soon be back in the same situation because a cut spurs growth at the spot where it occurs. The resulting dense growth also will keep sun from getting to the inside of the plant and all the foliage there will die as a result. The solution? Remove some of the branches all the way down to the ground. If you do cut the branch tips after that, stagger the branch lengths so it looks more natural.  Do not remove more than one-third of the plant in a given year or you'll weaken it.

5) Removing a large branch requires three or four cuts, not one. The first cut should be on the bottom of the branch about 18 inches from the trunk. The second will be an inch farther away from the trunk and on top of the branch. Keep going until the branch breaks free. The final cut should be at the branch collar, a swelling where the branch meets the trunk. Don't get too close to the trunk. No flush cuts! And no, don't put paint on the wound. Both of these interfere with the plant's natural healing process.

A word of caution: The best time to prune a flowering tree or shrub is right after it has bloomed. That said, you can do some pruning this time of year if you want a better view of the branch structure. Just remember that you'll be cutting off some of your blooms if your tree or shrub flowers in the spring.

Don't laugh. I once talked with a gardener who complained that his forsythias never, ever bloomed -- no matter what he did. Turned out he was pruning them every winter, removing every single flower bud in the process. Was his face red!

A final suggestion: If you have any concerns about a tree or large shrub, check with a certified arborist. Many problems can be prevented with proper care by a trained professional.

By Karen Geisler

11 comments:

  1. I just pruned our flowering crab yesterday. Even though I know I'm reducing flowering, this is the only time I feel confident about where to cut.

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  2. I'm with you. The books may say one thing, but sometimes there's a more practical way.

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  3. Still in winter here so no pruning for a while...great suggestions.

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    1. Thanks. Winter has reared its ugly head here with more than a foot of snow in some places. At least it looks like we will have a more "normal" spring this year.

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  4. I enjoyed the pruning tips in your post. I have been pruning over the past week and it is always useful to make sure you are on the right path, thank you.

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    1. You're welcome. I didn't do enough pruning last weekend and will now have to wait until some of the snow we've had melts. We definitely can use the moisture though.

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  5. This is a god reminder to me that I need to get out there and cut cut cut (out the buckthorne) and prune too!

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    1. Buckthorn is such a pain! It was really hard to remove at my previous house. Good luck!

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  6. I love the pink blooms on flowering almond. Thanks for reminding me that I have to track one down this season.

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  7. Extraordinarily significance info! just right what I was seem to be!Thanks..

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  8. Thanks for sharing these tips.All of these tips are very useful for me.

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