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As a professional, you’re well aware that occasional pruning keeps plants and trees well-shaped, attractive and healthy.

The Basics of Pruning

By Lynette Petersen


As a professional, you’re well aware that occasional pruning keeps plants and trees well-shaped, attractive and healthy. Proper pruning is also valuable for several other reasons:

* It helps plants develop or maintain a desired size or appearance. Prune to save room for an interesting variety of plants and to keep plants from becoming leggy or scrubby.

* Pruning re-establishes a balance between root and branch systems after transplanting.

* Pruning can train a young plant to encourage balanced, open growth later.

* Older, neglected shrubs can be rejuvenated with pruning. Removal of old, overcrowded stems or limbs encourages the growth of vigorous young ones.

* Pruning keeps plants healthy by promoting regular removal of dead or diseased material. Maintenance pruning includes removal of dense growth to let light and air reach the inner and lower stems.

But don’t start pruning yet — it pays to analyze the “surgery” you’re about to perform. Even if you’re an accomplished professional, it makes sense to take a refresher course before you begin. The results will be a more professional-looking job with less trauma to your trees and plants, better-controlled, well-directed growth — and happier clients.


When and how to prune

When plants grow too large, look shabby or lanky, or simply look tired and in need of rejuvenation, it’s probably time to break out the pruning tools. However, pruning is not an “all at once” proposition. Although cutting away dead materials, dried flowers and yellowed leaves can be done year round, it’s best to limit your extreme pruning to the start of a particular plant’s growth season. Unlike shearing, which is done during the growing season, pruning is usually done while the plant is dormant.

Some situations, such as rot, call for immediate pruning, regardless of the plant’s growth season. Most of a plant’s energy will go into trying to heal struggling limbs or foliage. If you prune away those parts, the plant will convert its energy into new growth, which is much more desirable. When cutting away diseased portions of a plant, always use a clean knife or clippers to trim rotted material away, as the bacteria can be transferred to healthy tissue. Make the cut below the dead tissue and into live wood.

The cardinal rule is to prune back to a branch or a bud, or you will leave a stub that will die back and cause decay and disease. Make pruning cuts no more than 1/4-inch above a bud or side branch. Angle all pruning cuts at about 45 degrees, tilted in the direction the bud is pointing.


Under normal conditions, terminal buds (the very last point of stem) grow faster than lateral ones (located on either side of new stems usually near leaf petioles) by producing a chemical that retards the growth of lateral buds. Terminal-bud dominance varies according to the age and species of the plant. Eliminating last year’s terminal bud will cause lateral buds to sprout forth, eventually producing a fuller plant with more stems.


The center of some plants may get too congested with stems, causing leaves to yellow and fall off.  Eventually, the crossing growth will strangle healthy limbs, so it is always desirable to remove leaves and branches that are growing toward the inside of the basic framework of a plant. It may take you a few moments to decide which branches to cut away. Take your time you can always cut more branches, but you can never put them back.


Proper pruning tools

As with any job, having the right tools is of primary importance. Don’t start pruning before taking an honest look at the equipment you plan to use.  Are you relying on tools that have been inherited, accumulated over several years, are badly in need of sharpening, or not matched to the job?

If one or all of these situations apply, it pays to make a fresh start. In fact, time spent updating your toolbox with quality-made, commercial-grade pruning equipment can be a wise investment toward a healthier, more attractive landscape.

Look at buying pruning tools as an investment that can pay off for years to come. Avoid so-called “bargain” tools that lose their edges quickly and won’t stand up to professional use. You’ll wind up spending more in the long run and risk damaging trees and shrubs. Look instead for tools that offer affordable quality and have a reputable guarantee. You’ll be a lot more satisfied, and the results of your work will show it.

If your budget is limited, but it’s time to “retool” for better results, focus on purchasing some basic pruning tools, including hand pruners, loppers and saws.

* Hand Pruners — When pruning plants, these are the tools you’ll probably use the most. The two types of hand pruners — bypass and anvil — use different cutting methods and are designed for specific jobs. As a result, you’ll want to own both types of pruners and know when to use them during different seasons and growth stages.

Bypass pruners use blades that slide by each other in a scissors-type cutting action. This lets you make clean, quick-healing cuts on healthy plants. Anvil pruners use a straight-edged blade that cuts against a soft metal anvil. They’re designed for trimming dry and woody growth.

Look for top-quality construction, forged-steel alloy for bypass pruners and high-carbon steel for anvil styles. Make sure the tool is sized and balanced so that it feels comfortable in your hand.

Hand pruners are rated for the maximum diameter of the branch they’re meant to cut usually 1/2 inch to 1 inch. Don’t risk damage to plant and tool by trying to force your way through larger branches. Instead, use a lopper.

* Loppers — These “grown-up” pruners have longer handles to provide extra reach and leverage for trimming growth as large as 3 inches in diameter. Like hand pruners, they’re available with bypass or anvil cutting action.

Look for forged steel alloy blades that are able to be re-sharpened on bypass styles; replaceable blade and anvil on anvil styles. Handles should include comfortable, non-slip grips.

If you buy just one set of loppers, a 26-inch bypass model is a good basic choice.

* Saws — When branches are too big to cut cleanly with a lopper, it’s important to include a professional-quality saw as part of your pruning equipment. Saws are available in a wide variety of styles including straight and curved blades and with handles that are fixed or which fold for easy carrying.

If you buy just one saw, make sure it’s large enough to handle medium to large-size branches. This will save time and help you do a better job.


Use the tree-cut method when sawing off a large branch. First make an undercut at least 6 inches from the bark collar. Then, about an inch beyond that, remove the limb with a top cut. Finally, remove the remaining stub with one smooth cut from top to bottom just outside the bark collar. With a very big limb, first reduce its length by removing it in sections.]


Other important tips

Some additional pruning tips are as follows:

* Prune safely — Protect your eyes with goggles and always use well-maintained tools that are suited for the job.

* Stay sharp — Make sure the pruning tools you buy have blades that can be re-sharpened, and keep a file handy to help maintain a good cutting edge. Sharpen often, making sure to maintain the blade’s original angle.

* Keep tools clean — Remove any sap that accumulates on tool blades with kerosene or another solvent.  Wipe down your tools with an oily cloth before storing.

* Practice makes perfect — Proper pruning improves shrubs and trees in any number of important respects, but improper pruning can be more harmful than none at all. Skill in pruning is gained through experience, so don’t shy away from the task.


Lynette Petersen is public relations counsel for Swanson Russell Associates.

Article provided by Corona Clipper, Inc. For more information, visit www.coronaclipper.com.

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