Sunday, April 1, 2012

Spring Pruning is More Important Now Than Ever!

Good gardening friend Paul Parent of the Paul Parent Garden Club sends out a great newsletter every week with pertinent gardening topics. I encourage you to go to his website to sign up for his newsletter. Paul can also be heard every Sunday morning from 6 AM to 10 AM at his website or at WBACH (104.7 FM) every Sunday morning from 6 AM to 9 AM.

Very recently Paul sent out as part of his weekly newsletter a great post called "Spring Pruning is More Important Now Than Ever!" Paul went over many great pruning points for this time of year. Here is what he has to say:

"Why do you have to prune your plants? You prune because pruning will make your plants healthy, they will look more beautiful and you can control the size and the shape of your plant. You also prune to increase the production of flowers and fruit and you prune to for the pleasure it gives you when the job is finished and you see what you accomplished. I want you to look at pruning as a wonderful way to improve the appearance of your property--NOT WORK. Think of pruning as a relaxing part of gardening that will allow you to become more creative. When you prune your plants, you are shaping the future appearance of that plant so it will better complement your home and garden.

The first thing I always tell gardeners is to say to your plants before you begin to prune: "I am doing this for your own good, I can do this and I am not intimidated with the job to be done!" Take your time when pruning, stop and look at what you're doing several times as you prune a plant ,because once you cut that branch, you cannot put it back—it's final. Walk around the plant or look at it from all sides before making a cut. Prune to make your plant look natural and try to stay away from power tools when possible. Power tools do the job quickly and if you're pruning a long hedge, it's the only way to do it--but individual plants should be pruned by hand. Your yard is not DISNEY WORLD; plants do not grow in nature in shapes that are round, square, columnar or conical. What you want to achieve is something in-between natural and Disney!

Start with the right tool for the job--and make sure the tool is sharp. Use your fingers when you remove faded flowers from your annuals or remove suckers from your tomatoes, and even to pinch back vines to help them produce new shoots. If you're going to use a knife or small saw, select one with a folding blade for safety when you carry it around the yard. Pruning shears are for branches under 1 inch in diameter, and they should always be closed when not in use--open pruners in your back pocket are a problem waiting to happen. They have to be sharp and clean or they will crush the stems, not cut them off cleanly. If they aren't sharp, you have damaged the plant every time to made a cut on a branch because a crushed stem cannot form callus and produce a healing scab to keep out disease and water.

Loppers are for branches over 1 inch in diameter; they are designed for medium duty pruning of single branches and for getting inside plants easily. Hand or bow saws are for larger branches and dry or dead wood; they make a nice clean cut--often doing a better job than loppers and causing less damage to the plant. Pole saws are for removal of branches in a tree out of your reach they keep you off a ladder and safe. The chain saw is for major removal of large branches or the entire tree; they work fast, so be careful---and always look around you before cutting for a way out if the branch does not go where you planned for it to fall.

For shaping a hedge, use hedge shears: manual or electric--it does not matter--just take your time, as many small shoots are cut at the same time. If you're using electric shears, always keep an eye on the extension cord, as many of us have cut the cord--and the fun quickly ends. If you're using manual hedge shears, choose some with teeth on the blade or a wavy edge, as this feature will hold the branches in place better. Also--when you use these giant scissors, select a pair with a good rubber shock absorber to help the handle spring-back more easily and get ready for the next cut. This good shock absorber will also make the pruning easier and your arms less tired.

One last thing about your good tools: they are expensive, and maintenance is the secret to a long life. Service will pay you back many times the cost of the tool; all you need is to clean them before and after using them. Sharpening the blade and tightening the screws that hold them together--along with applying oil to the moving parts and the blade--will pay big dividends when you need to use them again. One last thing, tree pitch from evergreens and rust on the blade are not acceptable; they cause you to work harder and put more stress on the tool. Always clean your tools and store them inside--out of the weather.

Now is the best time to prune your plants. Before the foliage begins to develop on the branches--and this next goes for evergreen plants too--prune while the plant is dormant! If you're pruning deciduous plants without foliage it will be easier, because you can see all of the branches and in what direction they are growing. Without foliage, the branches will be lighter and less likely to damage other branches as they fall from the plant--so that's easier for you to handle. It's also easier to see damaged or dead branches on the plant that must be removed to keep the plant healthy.

Right now, the energy or sap is still in the ground and just beginning to move up the plant. If you wait for the plant to leaf out before pruning, ll this energy will be used to make new growth on the plant--and when you cut it off, the new growth is wasted If you prune now, all the energy in the plant will be used to make new growth to cover the pruning you have just done, and no energy is wasted. Dormant buds will wake up to replace the buds you removed and your plants will become fuller with all this new growth. You may not believe this, but pruning will stimulate growth in most plants, as the dominant buds have been removed and the buds that remain will now compete to become the new leaders of the plant.

Here are a few things to consider when pruning your trees and shrubs this spring.

1) Prune all non-flowering plants NOW before the new growth develops--especially evergreens. When the new growth does form, it will hide any of the foliage you cut when pruning. This applies especially to broadleaf evergreens, because where you cut the leaf will turn brown--and half a leaf does not look good on a plant.

2) Flowering plants are best pruned as the flowers begin to fade, because after the flowering cycle the new foliage will form, and if you prune now you will remove the flower buds and miss the flowers.

3) Roses are always best pruned in the late spring to stimulate new growth and more flowers. Also, the plants will suffer less winter damage than when pruned in the fall. When the baseball season begins for real, it's time to cut back your roses--not during spring training.

4) When you prune, remove dead branches, broken branches, diseased branches, suckers, water sprouts and crisscrossing branches that are rubbing together first--before you do anything else to your plants.

5) When you prune evergreen plants that have begun to get too large, you can remove up to 75% of the green foliage (NOT 75% of the plant) and it will respond quickly and thicken up for you.

6) Prune your blue hydrangea to control the size of the plant but never cut it back to the ground. I would suggest that you wait until the buds begin to swell on the plant--and leave at least half of the buds on every stem, as many hydrangeas flower on buds made the previous year.

7) If you're pruning a conical evergreen like a spruce, do not touch the top of the plant or main leader, because your plant will begin to produce several new leaders and you will lose your conical shape.

8) Pruning paint is no longer recommended to cover cuts you made on the plant--they will heal much faster without it.

9) When you're done pruning, always fertilize your plant to help stimulate new growth and help form a scab to seal the cuts you made and keep out problems.

10) Go the book store and look over several good pruning books for information about the plant on your property. Pictures and information can help you do a better job and help encourage you to do this unique part of gardening! Learn to prune--it's rewarding!"

Thanks to Paul Parent!

Mike Skillin
Skillin's Greenhouses
April 1, 2012

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