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Archive for Thursday, March 10, 2005

Sharpen your pruners: Time for a spring buzz

March 10, 2005

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Traditionally, dormant pruning is saved for the coldest and windiest weekend of the winter. Not this year.

With the mild temperatures predicted for the week, now is a good time to prune fruit and some ornamental trees and shrubs. These plants are still dormant but will begin waking in several weeks. So sharpen your pruners and oil the saw.

Here are some tips for giving your landscape plants a spring "buzz":

For fruit trees, prune older trees first. Remove branches that are dead, weak or have not produced fruit for several years. Likewise, to allow sunlight to penetrate into the tree, remove branches that crisscross through the middle as well as branches that are touching each other.

For younger plants, structural pruning may need to be done to build strong, healthy trees. Select the most vigorous, upright growing branch for the leader. Then, select two to four branches that form wide angles with the trunk for permanent scaffold branches. They should be at least 6 inches apart and the lowest should be at least 18 inches to 24 inches above the ground. Make sure they are evenly distributed around the tree and are not all coming from the same side. Remove all the other lateral branches at the trunk, leaving only the two to four scaffold branches.

You can prune ornamental trees and shrubs, such as flowering crabapple, honeylocust, ash and oaks with no problems. Because temperatures are increasing and sap is beginning to flow, silver, sugar, Amur, Norway and hedge maples, black walnut, pecan, birch, mulberry and Osage orange (hedge tree) will have a tendency to bleed when pruned now. If you have ever pruned these trees, you will understand what I'm talking about. Though the bleeding may look as if it would cause considerable damage to the tree, it does not. However, many people find the oozing sap undesirable. To prevent this in the future, prune when the temperatures are below freezing but above 20 degrees.

Likewise, shrubs that flower on new wood or stems that grow this spring, and shrubs planted for their foliage and not their bloom, can be pruned now. Examples of these include Annabelle and Peegee hydrangeas, Anthony Waterer spirea, shrub dogwoods, barberry, burning bush, smokebush, sumac, ninebark and purpleleaf sandcherry plum.

Shrubs such as mock orange, potentillas, roses and weigela that flower later in the year, on new and old wood, can be lightly pruned now before growth starts or heavily pruned after blooming has ended later this spring.

Contrary to this, now is not the time to prune spring flowering trees and shrubs. Plants such as lilac, forsythia, azalia, rhododendron, magnolia, flowering dogwood, chokecherry, flowering plum or cherry, and Juneberry all bloom on old wood. Pruning now will remove the existing dormant buds, decreasing the floral display this spring. All of these should be pruned once blooming has ended.

Do not use pruning paint or sealant after making a pruning cut. Research has shown that these sealers trap moisture that can lead to disease and decay. The best practice is to make a good pruning cut. A proper cut leaves the swollen area around the branch called the branch collar that will heal quickly with minimal rotting.

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