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Learn the Right Way To Prune

By Nina Bynum

Now may be the ideal time to prune many trees, shrubs and perennials; but before you grab a tool, make sure you know what you´re planning to do. Pruning, like any other skill, requires knowledge to achieve success.

Are you overwhelmed by the idea of pruning your landscape? You´re not alone. For many of us, learning to prune properly is an on-going experience. Haven´t we all witnessed the results of an improper cut the next season? I certainly have. So if you´re like many gardeners, pruning may be the task about which you feel most uncomfortable.

In my research for this article, I even found conflicting advice about pruning. Remember to verify the source of information you might receive. Getting a second opinion can never hurt. Recent pruning clinics offered in our community provided excellent information. And Saturday´s Master Gardener fruit-tree pruning clinic will provide additional information (see more details below).

In general, the best time to prune most plants is during late winter or early spring before growth begins. The least desirable time is immediately after new growth develops in the spring. A great amount of food stored in roots and stems is used in developing new growth. This food should be replaced by new foliage before it is removed. If not, considerable dwarfing of the plant may occur.

Prune near a lateral (side) bud that is pointing in the direction that you want the subsequent branch to grow. To determine the formation of early spring growth look for slight swelling of leaf buds.

Proper pruning will improve the quality of flowers, fruit, foliage and stems. It also enhances the beauty of almost any landscape tree or shrub. After removal of dead branches you will be rewarded with the appearance of neatness and tidiness.

Many California natives are highly flammable under drought conditions and in summer and fall. When used in the landscape, natives should be well-spaced and pruned of deadwood to reduce their ability to carry fire. When we remove the dead wood from our native manzanitas they look so much better and their dark red trunks seem even more dramatic.

The care of your pruning tools is very important in order to make proper cuts. Clean and oil tools regularly, including wiping an oily cloth on blades and other metal surfaces. Keep cutting edges sharp; several passes with a good oil stone will usually suffice. Paint, varnish or regularly treat wooden handles with linseed oil.

Use tools properly. Don´t twist or strain pruners or loppers. Keep the branch to be cut as deeply in the jaws and near the pivot as possible. Don´t cut wires with pruning tools.

You may be asking which branches to cut first in your landscape trees and shrubs. The easiest way to see a deciduous tree´s framework is in the winter. First cut branches that are broken, dead or diseased. Branches growing straight down, straight up or directly into another branch can also be removed. If there are suckers around the bottom of the trunk, remove them. Remove small branches before larger branches are selected. Next, choose the structure or scaffolding branches, usually 3 or 4, to be evenly distributed around the trunk. Pruning during the first 4 or 5 years establishes framework and is called training. The results of your labor will be enjoyed for many future seasons.

For information about the Master Gardener pruning clinics, call the University of California Cooperative Extension office at 533-5695 or the Master Gardener office at 533-5696. See you at the pruning clinics and in the garden.

Nina Bynum moved to Tuolumne County about 12 years ago and became a Master Gardener in 1996. She works to remove invasive plants and nurture the natives growing on her property.