by Charlene Burgi
Last week we talked about selecting the right tool for your pruning tasks. This week let’s focus on a few ways to determine what to cut, avoid damaging plants and achieve the best results.
Here are some basic pruning rules:
- Use the rule of three cuts for removing branches over two inches in diameter. Make a small undercut with the saw of your choice going a third of the way into the limb that you are removing. Make that cut close to—but not next to—the trunk. This undercut will prevent the weight of the limb from ripping into the bark of the tree trunk as it’s being removed. The second cut should be made from the top of the limb and about two or three inches further away from the trunk than your undercut. The last cut should be a clean cut leaving the branch bark collar intact (looks like a small crescent shape at the base of the limb you are removing closest to the trunk). A good cut will look like a donut on the trunk when allowed to seal properly.
- For trees and most shrubs, cut to the closest limb, fork or outside branch, not in the middle of a limb or branch. For shrubs like roses, prune to an outside bud or node (nodes often look like a little scar or bump on the branch or limb). Keep the branch that is facing toward the outside of the plant. Where limbs or branches rub or crisscross, remove the smallest. Remove broken branches and branches growing straight up alongside the trunk.
- Shape the plant. Target branches that are too low to the ground or that obstruct walkways. Prune back branches if they make the plant look lopsided.
- Thin the plant. Plants like light. If your plants become too dense, the light can’t get into the center. This is especially important with fruit trees. Remove some stems or branches growing toward the center of the plant to allow for light and air to penetrate the plant’s interior.
- Crown reduction: Lowering the height of the plant must be done in stages. Do not remove more than one-third of the height of a plant or tree in a year. Think of this task as a three-year project. Use a combination of thinning and shaping cuts as mentioned above throughout the plant.
- There is a lot of detail involved in pruning fruit trees. Get a good pruning book or go online to learn which fruit bears on old wood, new wood or spurs. If you make the wrong cuts you could eliminate your fruit production for the year. Each kind of fruit tree is a bit different, so read before cutting.
- Small twigs and branches will compost. Larger branches can be used as a refuge for quail if you have room in your garden to provide bird shelter. Chippers can be rented and the chips make great mulch for the garden. Fruit-tree twigs are also excellent to add to the BBQ to produce a hint of fruit flavor in the meat.
- Last, be careful. The tools you are using are sharp. Study the plant before making the cut, and project where limbs will drop and where your body is in relationship to the fall!
Join us next Tuesday, January 25, 1:00-5:00 p.m. at the College of Marin – Indian Valley Campus to See What’s Springing Up! This free, hands-on workshop is geared to our landscape professionals. There are just a few spots left, so call 945-1512 to reserve your space today.