In the Garden:
Crossing branches should be removed, but take care not to prune away fruit spurs such as those found on this apple tree.
Wintertime is Pruning Time
I think crisp, clear winter afternoons are perfect for strolling through the garden with pruning tools in hand. When branches are unadorned by summer foliage, it's easy to spot potential problems and nip them in the bud. I look first for dead wood and misplaced branches, and then at the overall appearance of the plant. If a shrub or tree needs a major overhaul, I'll make a mental note to come back when I'm fully equipped with the right tools and time to do a thorough job. Pruning is a little like staying ahead of the weeds. If you take care of the small problems they won't have a chance to grow into major problems.
Over time plants can become unruly, oversized and full of dead wood. Some well-placed pruning cuts can renew a plant, making it more attractive, opening it up to better air circulation, and encouraging healthy new growth.
Tools You'll Need
There are two types of hand pruners -- bypass and anvil -- and both have their fans. I prefer bypass pruners. They're easier for me to use, and they produce a clean cut on anything from small twigs to branches up to 1/2 inch in diameter. Long-handled loppers are reserved for larger branches, and pruning saws are for major renovation projects. If you're using loppers or a saw, be sure to don hand and eye protection.
Trees and shrubs that bloom in summer and fall generally develop flowers on the current season's growth. These should be pruned now, before the first flush of spring growth. Roses and blueberries fall into this category. Plants that bloom in the spring or winter, such as azaleas, lilacs, and forsythia, should be pruned immediately after blooming to give them a full growing season to produce new flowering shoots.
The Kindest Cuts
Making pruning cuts may seem tricky, but it's really quite simple. Make the cut 1/4 inch above a bud that's facing to the outside of the shrub, cutting downward at a 45-degree angle so water runs off the cut. By directing the new growth outward, you'll keep the center of the shrub open to good air circulation and more sunlight, which will help deter insect and disease problems.
It takes regular pruning to keep shrubs well groomed, but the effort pays off in improved health and better overall growth.
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