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Wash Journal   Fairfield Ledger
Neighbors Growing Together | Sep 22, 2018

It’s time for careful pruning

By Jean Thomson | Mar 01, 2018

Right about now is a good time for many pruning tasks — assuming, that is, that you can get into garden spaces that may be rather wet. If you haven’t already cleaned out the dead canes from raspberries and cut back the promising canes, this weekend would be ideal for that work.

Along with that yearly task, this is a good time to consider the structure of many shrubs. You won’t want to prune the spring bloomers such as lilacs and forsythia because you would sacrifice some of this year’s flowers. Summer and fall bloomers, on the other hand, haven’t set buds yet, and you can really discern the structural problems in the absence of foliage.

You’ll need a careful eye and clean hand pruners for this controlled work. After each shrub is completed, use alcohol wipes to disinfect the pruners. (Studies have shown these to be more effective than bleach solution.)

First, examine the shrub closely. Try to identify any dead wood and remove that. If you are unsure, scratch a branch with a thumbnail; green just below the surface indicates living wood.

Look for crossing or rubbing branches and remove one of them. Take out any broken or oddly shaped branches.

If you want to reduce the overall size of a shrub, follow each long branch back to a shorter one, and cut the long branch just above the joining point.

Step back often to get a good perspective on your work. It is best to remove no more than one-third of a shrub’s growth in a year, so knowing when to stop is important.

If a shrub such as a spirea is a hopelessly tangled mess, it is all right to cut the whole thing back just a couple of inches from the ground.

Pruning trees can be done in a manner quite similar to pruning shrubs — so long as the trees are small and all branches can be reached from the safety of the ground. When it comes to larger trees in need of pruning, it is wise to turn to the professionals. For most gardeners, the services of an arborist will be a good investment.

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