Thursday, January 31, 2013
Suburban News

It may be difficult to envision a green spring through the ice and snow of winter, but now is the best time for homeowners to prune their deciduous small trees and shrubs to ensure a healthy spring start for their landscapes.

Pruning deciduous trees and shrubs is ideal during the winter because it’s easier to see the form of the tree and branching structure without leaves. The plants also respond well to being pruned at this time of year because they are not actively growing, and are less stressed due to heat or drought.

To begin, first use hand pruners to prune dead or damaged branches to prevent infection. This is something one may want to do throughout the course of the winter, depending on how much snow and ice damages the plantings. Removing heavy snow from trees and shrubs is a good way to prevent damage in the first place.

Pruning cuts should be made with hand pruners outside of the bark collar. This is the flared base where a branch meets the trunk.

The next step is to look for crossing or tangled branches to cut. Crossing or touching branches can rub the bark away causing wounds that introduce infections. To determine which branch should stay and which should go, look at the direction of the branches and decide which is more dominant.

It’s important when pruning to always use clean, sharp hand pruners for small branches up to the size of a pencil. Cut as close to the next bud as possible and be sure the cut is angled away.

Hand pruners can also be used to remove weak fast growing branches called suckers and watersprouts. Suckers are whip-like branches that grow straight up from the trunk of a tree, robbing the plant of nutrients. Pruning these before spring will ensure that the plant gets what it needs for optimum health.

The two main types of pruners available are anvil or by-pass pruners. Anvil pruners cut by pushing a sharp blade against an “anvil” — a broad flat surface. By-pass pruners work more like scissors, slicing the stem between two sharp blades.

By-pass shears and by-pass loppers are recommended by pruning experts over the anvil type. They tend to make a cleaner cut, which promotes faster healing. Anvil pruners crush the stem, leave a ragged cut that will be slow to heal. However, they are useful for cutting back dead plant material, as when you’re cleaning up your perennials at the end of the season.

One can also remove length from a branch to reduce the chance of damage from snow load or ice. Always cut back to the next branch. Leaving stubs is unsightly and unhealthy for the plant.

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