Gardening 101: Pruning Pt. 1

I cannot tell you how many times I have sat down to write this article. Pruning is one of the things I am most passionate about as a horticulturalist. It ranks above organic gardening. Really. Pruning is one of the most abused art forms in the horticulture industry. Many a winter day I cringe as I drive down the street looking at the poor helpless butchered trees. One year I had the idea to go around town and hang signs on all the maimed trees saying, “Someone cut my head off.” But being the non-activist I am I thought better of it.

I considered going into a specialty and becoming an arborist, but they make you take tests on what to spray trees with and that goes against the whole killing things and organic stuff. So I decided against it.

The problem, when deciding to write about pruning, is that the topic takes volumes to explain. I can’t sit down and plunk out a quick note on how to prune. It doesn’t work like that. Pruning really is an art form. There are rules that make you a good pruner.

So over the next few weeks we will focus on pruning. We will take one week to revisit that petunia you planted. (How’s it doing by the way?) The topics in pruning I want to cover are tool, timing, technique, and what not to do. This week we’ll talk about pruning.

Let’s start by saying that THESE are not a proper pruning tool. Please note the name: Hedge Shears. They are for that specific purpose. Trimming hedges. Nothing more. They are not to “prune” your front bushes. You may use them to cut your lawn, but other than that they are for hedges. If you own a pair please put them away and buy a proper pair of pruners.

That brings me to the next subject. What does a pair of proper pruners look like? There are two types of pruners on the market. By-pass and anvil. By-pass are the kind you want. The anvil pruners get dull quickly and they end up just mashing the branch instead of cutting it.

An excellent brand for pruners is Felco. They are a Swiss company and make some of the best pruners on the market. They also cost a tidy sum. If you ask me the price you pay is worth every cent. However, that is coming from a woman who does not own a single pair of Felco pruners. I just can’t afford them.

There are other tools of the trade when it comes to pruning. There are loppers and saws. The tool you will use depends on the size of the material you are cutting. It it is a simple rose stem then you would pick a hand pruner. If it is a larger tree branch you would pick a lopper. If neither of those is appropriate a saw is the tool of choice. One should not have to exert too much force to cut a branch. Keep that in mind.

Last, maintenance. It is so important to keep you tools clean and sharp. Please don’t judge me on the cleanliness of my tools. I tend to be a lazy gardener. I have left pruners out in the garden and they’ve rusted closed. In a perfect world I would clean and dry my tools after each use. Another important step is to disinfect your tools. A quick wipe with some rubbing alcohol kills any diseases and prevents spread. Make sure to regularly sharpen your pruners. It’s like trying to cut a tomato with a dull knife. It doesn’t quite work. If you keep your tools sharp your plants will thank you.

4 Comment

  1. Lea says: Reply

    There are some trees near my house that would have appreciated your sign. They look very sad. I’m sure I will benefit from your pruning tips. I like to watch HGTV’s Paul James and he has tried to teach me about pruning but I really need someone to come here and show me. I’m a picture person:). He lives in my city but I don’t think he is up for a live demonstration. How about pruning azaleas? I know they should be pruned just after they finished blooming. Any other tips for them? How about separating the bulbs of day lilies? Can your provide some info on this sometime? I have a couple of really large ones that may need to be separated soon. Thanks for your tips!

  2. Jenn says: Reply

    I second the Felco notion, but can only afford the one pair for my roses (and everyone knows to not touch mommy’s pruner’s with the red handles!)
    Roses is where my pruning knowledge ends, so I look forward to learning more to help my lilacs and such.

    BTW, I think I read somewhere that you don’t chemical spray your roses. We’d love to try that, but how do you control the blackspot and pests? With four little ones, less chemicals is best for sure!

  3. You have good timing. I have a bunch of things that need to be pruned. Probably most of them should have been pruned in the fall, but back then I was glued to my computer waiting for The Call. So any help you give on the topic will be much appreciated. 🙂

  4. mom says: Reply

    Any ?’s on pruning can also be answered by Elle’s mama. Just get out the chain saw and have at it!

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