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Garden Care Tips

Pruning Your Garden

Make the task of cutting back your garden a bit easier by learning about the types of pruning equipment available as well as techniques to use when pruning.

  • Prune with top-quality pruning shears, loppers, and a saw. Sharp blades and sturdy handles make pruning a breeze. Dull blades -- rusty and sticking -- make projects harder than they need to be. They can also cause wood to be crushed or torn, which is damaging to the plant. Look for hard, durable blades capable of being resharpened and a sturdy, smoothly operating nut holding the blades together. Hand shears should also have a safety latch to keep the blades closed when not in use.

Pruning is an important aspect of garden care.
Pruning is an important aspect
of garden care.

  • Hand pruning shears are used for small stems under about 1/2 inch in diameter. Look for scissor-type blades, which make sharper, cleaner cuts than the anvil type with a sharp blade pressing on a flat blade. Also check out new ergonomically designed pruning shears that minimize repetitive motion stress.

  • Loppers are long-handled pruning shears with larger blades for cutting branches up to about 11/2 inches in diameter. Pruning is easier if you buy a model with ratcheting action for more power with less effort.

  • Pruning saws should have narrow blades, be easy to maneuver into tight spaces, and be toothed on one side only.

  • Candle-prune pines to control their size or make them branch more thickly. Candle-pruning (also called candling) refers to manipulating the candle-shaped new shoots that arise in spring. Before the needles enlarge, use your pruning shears to cut off a little, half, or most of the soft candle, depending on how much you want to limit size. The cut should slant at an angle instead of slicing straight across the candle. Come the following spring, clusters of new side branches will appear. Continue candling each year for more dramatic results.

    Candling is especially handy for keeping mugo pines small enough for use near the house or in a mixed border. It also can help lanky, open-branched pines fill in to form a more solid and substantial cone.

  • Renewal-prune flowering shrubs by removing 1/3 of the stems once each year. This modest effort acts like a fountain of youth, keeping these shrubs young. It's much better than shearing, which reduces flowering, has to be repeated frequently, and can even accelerate aging.

    Use pruning loppers or a pruning saw to cut the oldest stems off at the ground, ideally in early spring before the shrubs break dormancy. This timing encourages quick renewal, but a few spring flowers will be sacrificed on early bloomers. If you can't bear that thought, wait to prune until after flowering. As spring and summer progress, new branches will take the place of the old branches. If pruned every year, the shrub will be continually rejuvenated, remaining healthy and beautiful.

    Spring-Blooming Shrubs
    These plants flower in the spring and benefit from pruning:

  • Rejuvenate tired, overgrown, or weak shrubs by cutting them to the ground. Although this may sound like giving up, just the opposite is true. It can be the start of a whole new shrub. This technique works well with easy-growing shrubs such as lilacs, viburnums, butterfly bushes, and common boxwoods but is generally not effective with evergreen shrubs (except boxwoods).

    The idea is similar to renewal-pruning, only more radical. It should be done in early spring before leaves or flowers emerge. Shrubs with strong root systems will resprout with a fountain of new stems. So that they don't crowd each other out, you should thin out excessively thick clumps to allow the strongest to continue growing and form the foundation for the new shrub.Shrubs with weak root systems or disease problems may not resprout. If there are no signs of life a month or two after cutting the shrub back, start looking for a replacement plant.
  • Prune to the outside of a tree's branch collar for fast healing and good tree health. The branch collar is the swelling located at the base of the branch, where it arises from another limb or the trunk. The branch collar is like a hospital isolation ward; it houses protective chemicals that help keep diseases from invading the parent limb. When removing a branch for any reason, leaving that branch collar in place shuts out any passing pathogens.

  • Slant pruning cuts away from the bud to encourage water to run off. This helps keep the bud healthy so it can grow and prosper.

Mulching is another important aspect of garden care. Learn more on the next page.

Want more gardening tips? Try:

  • Gardening Tips: Learn great helpful hints for all of your gardening needs.
  • Annuals: Plant these beauties in your garden.
  • Perennials: Choose great plants that will return year after year.
  • Gardening: Discover how to garden.