We are at the end of the season for heavy pruning, which should be done before the plants break dormancy and begin to leaf out. But for those who still have time to prune, and for those jobs which can be accomplished later in the growing season here are a few tips:
- get rid of dead and damaged parts
- direct the growth of the branches (plant)
- encourage new growth
- fix some growth problems such as weakness
- prevent future problems, such as disease from lack of air circulation, damage from crossing branches,etc
My hints? Get the best quality shears and loppers you can afford. Handsaws -not so much- I like the run-of-the-mill Japanese handsaw. If using a lopper for a fairly good size branch, I position the end of one handle on my shoulder and use both hands to exert pressure from the other handle. If this isn’t enough to do the job, it is time to grab the saw- even if the diameter didn’t seem to merit it.
Another tool often spoken of by English gardeners and professional nurserymen is the pruning knife. I think this is one tool I haven’t used that I would greatly appreciate. There are times I just grub off excess twigs, but I think a pruning knife would work well in many situations. Sometimes the pruners just don’t make as clean a cut on the more flexible branches.
When pruning large branches make sure you do the undercut first. That is the cut underneath the branch, so that as you saw through and get to where the weight of the branch might pull it down, it will not strip off the bark as it breaks away.
Also remember when you saw that it cuts with the pull. After a while you will get the feel of it if you do much pruning. Sawing away furiously wastes your energy, and you’re likely to damage the tree.
I used to climb up in the trees when pruning and it seemed good to hang the saw up on a branch and then climb up to do the cutting. I have never heard of anyone doing harm to themselves- but it pays to be careful. I haven’t done any climbing the last couple years… though I was tempted this last week.
Prune out inside branches, especially those that cross.
Prune damaged branches and too strong growth that sprouts straight upward.
Prune older branches on the inside of shrubs, to help give the newer growth a boost.
Prune shrubs after they bloom.
The same rules and methods apply to flowering shrubs, but since the main desire is to have lots of bloom in the spring (when the majority of garden shrubs bloom), the late winter/early spring is not the best time to prune those. Right after they bloom is the best time to remove unwanted growth and trim them up. That preserves the year’s bloom, and doesn’t disturb the setting of blossoms for the next year.
Dead branches should removed at any time – the sooner the better.