11/14/2012 | Ken Lain, mountain gardener Plant Care, Uncategorized

Another New Year so another pruning season has begun. Proper pruning and the correct planting process are equal in importance to good landscape health. This is the time to begin cutting back all perennials in the garden.

Go ahead and prune back summer blooming shrubs like butterfly bush, Russian sage, and rose of Sharon. All of them will enjoy a nice winter cut. Also include all the fruiting trees, berry bushes, and grapes. Your objective is to complete pruning by the middle of March so you have plenty of time to prune back one tree or bush on nice days. No need to spend a long day outdoors pruning everything while temps are low.

Today’s column is written to simplify the pruning process and to eliminate uncertainty when you pick up your pruning tools.
Don’t worry about pruning mistakes; you can’t make any of lasting consequence. Plants will grow their way out of any pruning blunder. Fertilize after this year’s pruning projects and new spring growth will mask the scars left by misguided pruners. So fear not, get out there and start cutting your way across the landscape!

First, remove stakes and guy wires installed with trees planted a year ago.

Next, prune out dead or damaged branches. Dead wood not only looks ugly, but it attracts insects, disease, and wood-pecking birds. Thin out branches on trees with histories of disease or mildew. Reducing the mass of branches will improve air circulation and penetration of sunlight, which in turn will reduce the incidence of disease. Plums, cherries, peaches, willows, and poplars, are prone to leaf problems and really benefit from this pruning.

There are two techniques for pruning the remaining branches on trees and shrubs: heading and thinning. Heading is cutting a branch back to a healthy bud that is pointing in the direction you want the plant to grow. This method is used mainly on evergreen shrubs, hedges, and later in the season on roses.

Thinning is completely removing a shoot or branch to ground level, to the trunk, or to another main branch. After the cut no prominent stub remains. This is usually the best method for pruning trees.
Ducks are not welcome in the garden! You should not have to worry about hitting your head on a low hanging tree branch. Feel free to prune trees to above head height. Smaller trees may take several years before they finally reach the height I like, but by patiently cutting a few branches each year I soon have trees with the clearances I want.

When pruning is complete spray trees and shrubs with an application of ‘All Season Spray Oil’. It’s highly effective at killing insects and their eggs, yet safe for your plants and our environment. This is the least expensive bug killer of the season. A bottle is $19.99 and enough for the average home’s landscape. All Season Oil is especially important for young trees or trees that had problems last year with insects or disease. It is a must on fruit trees if you want a decent crop this coming season.

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I don’t have space here for how-to sketches showing these proper cuts but my free handout, “Pruning Basics”, has photos that are really helpful. Just ask for it the next time you visit the garden center. A more in-depth manual for pruning is put out by Creative Homeowner entitled “Smart Guide Pruning”. This softbound book is available for only $10.95. In this gardener’s opinion it’s a very good ‘How-To’ book for the money.

My Facebook fans have commented on videos of some of my pruning projects. “How to Prune Russian Sage” and a second entitled “A Pruner’s Guide to Butterfly Bushes” were well received and much appreciated. My thanks for the many kind comments. The videos are at Follow the garden conversation by ‘Liking’ the page and you will be notified when new garden information hits the site. Good advice for mountain gardening can be hard to find, so please, please, please share helpful gardening tips with your fellow gardeners.

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A good tool makes all the difference to ease in pruning. Good tools are especially important when trimming back our native oaks, fruit trees, and other hardwoods. It is worth investing in a good pair of pruners that will get you through this year’s project and stay sharp for many years to come.

Pruners, loppers, and shears all are graded by the quality of their blades. The question of the best set of hand pruners is always good for debate, but I really like the Corona ‘Bypass Pruners’. The light design is easy to handle and it has a blade that cuts through limbs a half inch in size like a knife through butter. A little pricey at $69, it is one of those garden tools you can count on to do the job without wearing out your own limbs in the process. I sell a knock-off brand for under $10, but if you have the resources save your money for the long run and buy the better pair. Your muscles will be happy you invested in a better tool, I know that mine are.

Until next week, I’ll see you in the garden center.