Tag Archive | Pruning

Pruning Water Sprouts

by Sharon Morrisey, Milwaukee County consumer horticulture agent

apple-watersproutsAs a general rule, pruning of woody landscape plants should not be done in midsummer. The one exception is water sprouts on fruit trees, particularly apples and crabapples. Both are in the genus Malus and have a greater tendency to produce water sprouts than most other genera. Water sprouts form in response to pruning out large, diameter branches.

hqdefaultIt has been shown that if the removal of water sprouts is delayed until late July or early August, fewer new water sprouts will form. If pruned out in early spring when all other pruning is being done, more water sprouts will be stimulated and a vicious cycle begun.

Water sprouts are branches that grow straight up from a larger-diameter branch. They grow very quickly and arise from latent buds buried deep inside the larger branch. The sprouts push through the outer layers of wood and bark.

As they grow taller and thicker, they become top heavy. Since they have no real connection of the branch, summer and winter storms can blow them over, and in the process, break the branch they are growing on. These sprouts also look awkward and out of place.

To avoid having to prune out large branches, begin developing the structure of trees when they are young so you remove only small branches.

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Pruning Rule Breakers

rhododendron-245633_960_720Rhododendrons, unlike most shrubs, have no painless window for pruning. They start forming the buds for next year’s flowers before this year’s have even opened, and by the time bloom season is done, those buds are well advanced.

It’s difficult emotionally to cut off any of next year’s flowers, but if you continually avoid pruning, you may be even more devastated. In fact, you could end up having to cut the rhododendrons to the ground and start all over again.

Pruning rhododendrons requires imagination as well as sharp sheers. Dr. Richard Lighty, the director of the Mount Cuba Center for the Study of Piedmont Flora in Greenville, Delaware, advises that you try to visualize what the shrub should look like. Reach your goal by critically selecting strong outer branches that, when pruned back, will expose smaller inner branches in the right position to fill in. Once exposed to light, these inner branches will begin to grow.Rhododendron-pruning-outline-diagram1

As the flowers fade, trim no more than 15 to 20 inches off the strong branches. Where should you prune? Where the strong branch is near the tip of an inner branch that has a whorl of glossy leaves surrounding the buds, your signal that the inner branch is healthy. If the shrubs are still too big, reprune in two years.

To make sure the plant has stored enough food that it can easily handle pruning, fertilize in late fall the year before you intend to prune. If you fertilize after pruning, it will put out long, leggy growth.

Although it is better to stay on top of your regular pruning chores, rhododendrons can be cut down to 12 to 15 inches from the ground if necessary. The plants have buds at their base that will generally send up new shoots. But, as I learned, there won’t be any flowers for two to three years.

Shearing is not Pruning

This time of year, we’re preparing for winter and many folks are doing some Fall pruning. Do you say you’re grabbing your shears

Ficus benjamina (formally sheared)

Ficus benjamina (formally sheared)

or your pruners? There is a difference between pruning and shearing.

Pruning means cutting off a part of a living plant, and covers everything from snipping a twig to reaching deep inside a tree canopy and sawing off a major branch. Shearing is a particular kind of pruning, one in which only branch tips are cut, and they are cut as a group rather than individually.

The goal of shearing is to force lots of small outer branches while creating a smooth outline. The result — if it is successful — is that the sheared plant loses it’s natural identity and becomes a formal shape.

Creating a box hedge topiary by hand

Creating a box hedge topiary by hand

The most common example of the technique is the flat-faced wall of a sheared hedge, but people also shear plants into mounds, pyramids, graduated balls on sticks, or (in a few extreme cases) things like chess pieces and leaping dogs.

Shearing at the simple hedge level seems as thought it should be easy; just hold the shears at the proper angle and clip away. In fact, it takes patience, practice — and strong arms — to see where you need to cut and then do the cutting properly.

Electric hedge trimmers promise to relieve you of much of the work, and they do make it go faster. But they are heavier than hand shears, their speed increases the chance of mistakes, and they have a regrettable tendency to tear everything they touch instead of cutting cleanly.

Pruners

Pruners come in two basic styles: anvil and bypass. With anvil pruners you have only one sharp cutting blade, which closes against a dull bed (the anvil) to sever whatever. Bypass types are more like scissors, with two sharp blades, one of which secures the branch while the other moves past it, cutting as it goes.

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Anvil Pruners

Anvil pruners cannot be brought as close to the cut as bypass types, but they do have two advantages: only one sharp blade means only one blade to sharpen, and the mechanism does give a bit more leverage. Though this can make a difference if you want to use a small pruner for very thick or very hard wood, it’s usually easier to use a bigger pruner for heavier jobs and stick with bypass for everyday use.

Bypass pruners come with all kids of blade lengths and angles, with and without ergonomic handles, and in special versions for lefties. They also come in a wide price range, with the best-made costing two or three times as much as the cheapos. Fortunately, even the most expensive pruners cost less than dinner and a movie for two, so there is no reason to stint. Just remember the old saying: good tools make all tasks go lightly.

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Bypass pruners

In fact, it’s best to have at least two pruners, one saved for rough work (at ground level, for example, where you might hit gravel) and one used for delicate operations like removing spent lilac blossoms.

This will let you go a bit longer between sharpening sessions. But those sessions are as important as the pruners themselves because it is absolutely essential to make clean cuts when you are pruning shrubs. Wood that has been torn or crushed, as is guaranteed to happen if the pruners are not sharp, is (literally) an open invitation to disease.

Just as it’s better to plant a five-dollar tree in a ten-dollar hole than the other way around, it’s better to have a pair of sharp cheap pruners than to work with quality tools that have been allowed to get dull. If you don’t want to sharpen them yourself, be sure to have them sharpened regularly by a professional — your local nursery or garden center can usually recommend someone. Keep your tools clean and oiled between uses so they don’t rust, and they should serve you well for years.

Prune that Raspberry patch

How-to-grow-raspberries-young-fruitUnderstanding how raspberries produce is the key to getting the most from them. While their roots are perennial, their canes are biennial, dying after the second growing year. In order to prune successfully, you have to know which canes bear when, and that is a function of whether are summer bearers or fall bearers.

Summer-bearing raspberries act like true biennials; the first year is for producing leaves, and the second year is for flower and fruit production. After that, the dead canes just stand around interfering with berry picking. Every year, raspberries send up new canes, so the penalty for not pruning — rampant sprawl and painful harvests — mounts.

The elegant way to prune summer-bearing raspberries is to cut all canes at soil level in the summer, after they are finished fruiting, and then prune out all but the strongest four or five new canes in the spring, once they are 8 to 10 inches high.

Fall-bearing raspberries, also (somewhat misleadingly) called ever-bearing, produce fruit twice; at the tops of the canes in late summer or early fall of the first year, and again lower down on the canes during midsummer of the second (and final) year.

Prune fall-bearers in the spring. For maximum yields, completely remove the canes that produced fruit during the previous midsummer (look for old, cracking bark on the two-year old canes). Leave enough of the brand-new canes to produce a late, first-summer crop, while removing as many as necessary to control the size of the plant.

Alternatively, you can simply cut fall-bearing raspberries to the ground each spring. You’ll get only the late crop of berries, but you won’t have to decide which canes are two years old and which ones are only one; you simply whack them all back.

Lilac Woes

Did you plant a lilac bush and have lovely flowers the first year and nothing since then? Or maybe you’re not getting the flowers that you used to get from your established lilacs?

According to Jack Alexander, the chief plant propagator at the lilac-magnificent Arnold Arboretum at Harvard University, newly planted or transplanted lilacs tend to have transplant sulks. Most spring-flowering shrubs, lilacs included, form flower buds the previous year. That initial display you see when you buy new shrubs was set when the lilac was still comfortably at home in the nursery. When it was moved, the disturbance set it back. Give it a bit more time, and whatever you do, don’t move it again!

flower-356176_960_720Common lilacs (Syringa vulgaris) and the French hybrids based on them are especially sensitive in this regard. If you’re the type who likes to move the furniture around, try planting ‘Miss Kim’ (a cultivar of S. patula). She’s a bit less fussy about an occasional relocation.

‘Miss Kim’ is easy to find at nurseries, as are a good number of S. vulgaris varieties and cultivars. But for the widest selection of colors, fragrance, and bloom times, mail order is the way to go.

Pruning

Lilacs have to grow for a few years before they start flowering. After that, they bloom in spring on year-old wood, the stems that grew from the older branches during the previous summer.

Pruning consists mainly of removing elderly trunks and clipping off seed heads within reach. But if you want to cut back young growth, the proper time is right after flowering. It should be done as soon as possible, and no later than three weeks after petal fall.

Still not getting Flowers?

If you are not pruning too late or cutting off all of the new growth, the problem may be too much fertilizer, which could push vegetative growth at the expense of flowers. Or, maybe the problem is a lack of light. Lilacs need plenty of sun to flower well, and shade is the most common culprit when mature bushes fail to bloom.

Remember, too, that if you go through a summer of little or no rain, the plant will be unable to set buds for next year so you can expect little or no flowering the year after a drought.

Storing Your Tools and Supplies for Winter

clean_toolMake sure to properly care for your tools for winter so that they’ll be in good shape in the spring. Clean hand tools, shovels, rakes, and hoes before putting them in storage; it’s easier to do the job now than wait until spring when the rust and hardened soil are harder to remove.

  1. Wash or wipe off excess soil; use a narrow putty knife to remove hardened soil. Or soak soil-encrusted tools in water and scrub with a wire brush.
  2. Remove rust with a coarse grade of steel wool or medium-grit sand paper. Add a few drops of oil to each side of the tool surface, and use a small cloth to spread it over the metal. This will help protect the surface against rust.
  3. 2003536302Sharpen the soil-cutting edges of shovels, hoes, and trowels to make digging easier.
  4. Check the handles for splinters and rough spots. Use sandpaper on rough, wooden-handled tools; coat with linseed oil.
  5. Make sure the handles are tightly fastened to the shovel, hoe, or rake. You may need to replace or reinstall missing pins, screws, and nails.

PesticideStorageAs you’re working to properly store your tools for winter, take a moment to locate, organize, and safely store fertilizers and pesticides.

  1. Always leave pesticides in their original containers. It is illegal — and unwise — to transfer them to a different container.
  2. Pesticides should be stored in a locked area, away from pets and children.
  3. Store granular formulations in cool, dry locations.
  4. Liquids should be kept out of direct sunlight and freezing temperatures. Freezing and UV can diminish the effectiveness of some products.

Finally, you should store your lawn mower properly so it, too, will be ready to go in the spring.

  1. Empty the gas tank, or fill it with a gas preservative. The gas can be emptied by running the motor until it eventually runs out of gas. If you’re adding a gas preservative, run the motor for a few minutes to mix the preservative and gas together.
  2. Disengage the spark plug wire for safety.
  3. Drain and replace the oil. This should be done at least once a year; check your owner’s manual for specific instructions.
  4. Clean off any dirt and matted grass.
  5. Sharpen the blades or make a note to do so first thing in the spring before mowing season begins.
  6. Buy replacement belts, spark plugs, and air filter as needed and store them until spring.

By caring for your tools and supplies properly each year, you’ll save a lot of money and will be ready to “hit the ground running” each spring.

Written by Vicki