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Get ready for pruning!

Huh? What?

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IN OUR GARDENS—Why prune at all?

Because it helps trees become stronger and healthier.  Foliage becomes more lush.  Leaves grow bigger.  Flowering bushes produce more flowers; some say bigger flowers are produced. Pruning fruit trees makes it easier to pick fruit. Inspecting and pruning yearly makes your life much easier as your beauties grow.                                                           

If I only knew how simple it was to prune, I would have saved thousands of dollars. But I was afraid of killing my trees and bushes. The closest I ever came to pruning was pulling off dead flowers, generally known as “deadheading.”

Research before you prune. This is important. Again: Research your trees and bushes before attempting to prune. Every tree and bush has limits on how much can be removed. And sometimes branches need to be cut at different times of the year because they pose a risk.

There are times when tree specialists are necessary. But you have to research (again) before you hire someone else to do your pruning. A lawn maintenance company cut two-thirds of a butterfly bush and whacked up a cherry tree so much that neither recovered to their original healthy condition.

Most pruning is done in the late winter or early spring; cherry trees are an exception. Those months are also cabin-fever time for most of us. That’s a good excuse to get out and assess your landscape.

Why prune in the late winter or early spring?  Simple. Your deciduous trees and bushes that lose their leaves in the fall are dormant, as are insects. The sleepy period, before buds appear, allows your woody friends to heal with less chance of disease.

With the leaves gone, you’ll have a clear picture of any dead, damaged, diseased and dangerous branches that should be removed.

Dead, damaged, diseased and dangerous

Dead branches take up unneeded space and air, besides looking like crap in the months to follow. If you’re not sure if a branch is dead, scrape a little bark off. If it’s green, it’s not dead. Don’t go all Superwoman or Incredible Hulk and bend it. Even a branch with a two-inch diameter can crack and send wood flying all over. I learned that the hard way. It takes two seconds to hurt yourself or your eyes. Could be six months or longer to heal. Why risk it?

How about damaged branches? Cross branches—they look like an X—can potentially rub against other branches and injure them, a perfect opportunity for insects to infest the damaged branches when the insects come out in the spring.

You also want to get rid of diseased branches. Pruning can control plant diseases by keeping the disease from spreading, according to the Oklahoma State University (OSU) Division of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources. Prune the diseased branches back 10 inches from the dieback and into the healthy wood.

OSU extension director Robert Bourne added that if pruning is done with handheld tools, the tools should be sanitized between cuts. (Chainsaws don’t need to be sanitized.)

Pruning tools

Having all your tools with you saves time when you’re pruning. With this list, you’ll have the tools on hand.

Here’s what you need:

  • Safety glasses. You may not like them, but they can save you an eye. I have been wearing an old pair of plastic-framed eyeglasses that literally saved my eyes on many occasions, but this season I’ll be wearing both the glasses and safety goggles.
  • Pruning shears.
  • Loppers.
  • Ratchet pruners.
  • Pruning saw, one or more.
  • Hedge shears.
  • Pole pruner for those hard-to-reach tree branches.
  • The small but mighty chainsaw—my favorite! (Buy from your local farm and garden store or a chainsaw specialist like Eschenberg, and discuss safety tips with the salesperson. Pruning is important, but don’t lose a limb over it.)

It seems like lots of stuff, but almost all of it can fit in a kid’s wagon. Not counting the chainsaw, tools should not cost more than $100, and most have lifetime warranties. It’s a good investment for the future of your landscaping needs.

Dangerous branches can fall down—you don’t want them falling on people or on a vehicle or house—or the branches can be an obstacle for mowing and walking.

Winter or early spring is a good time to buy the tools needed before they are gone. (See sidebar for list of tools you’ll need.) Last year, I waited too long and missed out on badly-needed loppers.

You’ll also soon discover that some people are funny about lending their tools. I don’t blame them.  We all have our favorites.

Some pruning tips

First, be sure you’re protected with a hat, long sleeves, pants, gloves and a coat. If you’re using a chainsaw, consider more protection; ask your salesperson.

If pruning a large tree branch, with a diameter of five or more inches, get as close to the trunk as possible or to what is referred to as a “collar.” You’ll know it when you see it. The collar resembles a ring on your finger close to the trunk. Thank you, chainsaw!

There is no shame in making two or more cuts from different angles, as long as the cut eventually lies flat against the trunk of the tree or collar.

Avoid branch blindness.  This year I’m marking the branches before pruning. Eventually, they all look the same and you end up cutting the wrong branch.

Take the time to stand back several times throughout the process of pruning. View your masterpiece.  You want to see the blue sky and sun coming through the branches.

Remember, it’s not the end of the world if things are lopsided. Usually nature is very forgiving. Like a bad haircut, everything will grow back, giving you another chance to practice pruning.  

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