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Principles and practice of basic pruning

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As the landscape matures over time and those little plants brought home from the nursery begin to grow and age, pruning is often necessary. Major pruning and large material removal can be reduced or even eliminated by careful placement of trees and shrubs in the first place. However, pruning damaged or diseased branches, to remove deadwood, to re-invigorate or give shape to a plant is a skill. Poorly done, the plant can be mutilated beyond recognition, or even be hastened to its demise. In this article I will examine some general principals of proper pruning.
Tools
There are three tools you will certainly need, and possibly a fourth if you intend to work on material out of arms reach:
Pruning shears: Best for material 1” in diameter or less. Bypass shears are generally the most versatile.
Long handled loppers: Can be used for material up to 2 ½ inches
A pruning saw: For larger material. Do not even try to use a regular saw. It will bind and tear.
A pole pruner: For material out of arms reach
Buy the best tools you can afford. It is simply torture to work with inferior tools, and the savings is not worth it.
Pruning basics
• When removing dead or diseased material from a plant it is necessary to cut back to healthy material or the wound will not heal.
• Cut back to a branch or bud. Do not leave a stub between buds or branches. This will usually die and/or open the plant to disease and insect attack.
• Make clean cuts. Broken or pinched cuts will harm the vigor of the plant.
• Make a cut on the diagonal to help shed water from the wound.
• Dressing a wound is not necessary.
• Do not give the plant a “buzz cut”. Select branches to be removed by viewing from several angles. When pruning, keep the shape of the plant intact. Simply cutting all the branches at the same height may cause haphazard and poorly shaped future growth that will need to be cut back again.
• Remove material in the following order: 1. Dead branches, 2. Declining or diseased and broken branches, 3. Healthy branches for shaping and thinning. Often when pruning only the first two steps need to be taken to bring the plant back to presentable shape.
Prune at the proper time. Pruning during winter dormancy is a good practice. Some plants may ooze sap when pruned late in the winter or early spring. Pruning can also be done later in spring once the flowers have faded. Pruning in fall is generally not a good practice as it takes longer for wounds to heal at this time, and disease is more prevalent.

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