If your property has trees and shrubs, you can expect to do a little creative pruning and trimming from time to time. When left to their own growth patterns, trees and shrubs will often grow unevenly. While in many instances, pruning is merely cosmetic, in others, it can save or extend the life of a plant. In nearly all cases, it will improve appearances.
Uneven growth may be endemic to a species, or it may occur in response to stressful weather conditions. In still other cases, a relatively well-shaped tree may simply grow into trouble, as when spreading branches threaten to damage a roof. In most cases, careful removal of the offending limbs, buds or sprouts can mean the difference between a troublesome eyesore and a healthy, attractive complement to your home.
When to prune is a good question. If done at the wrong time of year, pruning can prevent flowering, expose the plant to damaging insects and rot, and actually produce abnormal growth in the following year. Because of the great variety of trees and shrubs grown today, and because climate and geography will often influence your decision, we suggest seeking professional advice through your county extension agent or garden center. Here, we'll concentrate on basic guidelines.
When it comes to nonflowering trees, spring and fall prunings produce the least amount of stress. As for flowering trees and shrubs, you'll need to determine on which type of wood the flowers bud and bloom. Roses, for example emerge on first-year growth, so a judicious early-spring pruning will stimulate new growth and encourage more buds.
Forsythia, by contrast, bloom on second-year growth. In this case, you'll want to prune shortly after flowering. In that way, this year's growth next year's flowers.
Apple trees, on the other hand, produce from growth that is several years old. As such, timing is not so critical.
Limb size and position determine which tools to use and how you'll approach the work. Small branches, no greater than three-eighths of an inch in diameter, can be handled with pruning shears. Branches up to 1-and-one-quarter inches in diameter, are easy to cut with loppers, whose long handles provide plenty of leverage. Larger branches require a saw, either a bow saw, which cuts on the forward stroke, or a limb saw, which cuts on the back stroke.
When approaching any limb or shoot, consider the weight that it supports. If the limb is too heavy, a single top-down cut will likely cause the limb to break before the final strokes are completed, and will likely strip its bark all the way back to the trunk.
The best approach in this case is to cut twice. First cut through the bark on the bottom side of the limb, then cut the limb off from the top just ahead of the bottom cut.
If the limb you remove is larger than 1 inch in diameter, you'll want to seal the wound against insects, mold and rot. This is best done with a pruning seal, sometimes called a wound seal or tree paint. This tarlike substance is inexpensive and will last through several seasons.
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