Which branches to prune, and how to do it

Hello friends,

In my last blog I listed the tools you should have to get started with pruning. Here are guidelines to keep in mind when pruning. I like to keep in my mind the three D’s: Dead, Diseased, and Dumb.

Dead — The branch is brittle, off-color.

Diseased — oozing sap or has major die back.

Dumb — A branch that grows inward or rubbing another branch.

There are two types of cuts: heading cuts and thinning cuts. A heading cut takes the cut to a point where there is a bud. Always cut to an out facing bud. A thinning cut takes the cut to a point on the scaffold branch or to the point of origin. You should never top a tree or shrub. All plants have an apical bud. This is the shoot at the highest point. If you prune that you will get lots of apical shoots to take its spot, hence the term “water sprouts.”

While pruning you should only take a third at a time. If you prune a big branch always use the three-cut method. You go out a foot on the branch, make an under cut, then go about 6 inches, make a top cut. The branch will fall. Then make the final cut at the branch collar. The collar is the swollen area at the base of the branch. It has hormones that will seal off the wound. You should never use sealers.

One very important thing to keep in mind is how a plant grows. All plants are programmed to grow to a certain height. The plant has a function in the landscape. Do you have a tree that is planted under a power line? Is it planted where you lose a view or planted in the wrong place? Well now is the time to get it out of there.

Instead of pruning the plant to try to keep it small or topping it, consider taking it out completely. If you have a shrub like escallonia and it has grown too big, you can try radical renovation. You cut it to the ground and let it grow back. Before you try that on any other plant make sure it will come back.

Spring is an excellent time to put in the proper plant for the proper space. It is always a good idea to read about a plant to make sure it will grow in the space. The Northwest Flower and Garden show just happened and is a great way to get into the garden spirit. I enjoy taking walks with my wife and seeing all the beauty in different gardens. Things to do in the garden this week: deadhead your hydrangea. Never go more than five buds or you will lose blooms. You can make some thinning cuts. Take out the oldest cane to the ground and that’s about it.

I will give you one plant a week to prune. Each week I will put one question and answer at the end of the blog. A great organization is Plant Amnesty; you may want to check them out at www.plantamnesty.org for more info on pruning.

Have a great week and happy gardening to you and yours.


• Joe Machcinski is owner of Pangea Gardenscapes, a natural and organic yard care business  that offers design, education, consulting and care. He is active in Washington  Association  of  Landscape Professionals. He can be reached at (360) 990-3035 or besthands@aol.com.

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