Published on Thu, Sep 5, 2002
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Fall pruning tips

By Michelle Ensinger

Pruning is not only an art and science, but it can be a source of learning and accomplishment. One needs to recognize and respect the natural growth habit or particular trees and shrubs and honor and enhance the plants natural inclinations.

In general, pruning improves the health, safety, productivity, vigor and appearance of trees and shrubs.

One needs to prune a young tree to give it a good root-to-top ratio and promote it’s structural performance for maturity. One needs to remove dead diseased or dying wood and cross or rubbing branches.

As the tree grows, water sprouts, insect infested and diseased wood need to be removed.

When one decides to try specialty pruning - Espalier, topiary/design, I believe it is best to discern if the tree used is the best choice for the outcome one wants, and will the tree survive its new design.

Pruning can be debilitating if done so late in the growing season that it brings on a flush of new growth that gets damaged by the first fall frost.
Whether hiring a skillful pruner or doing the job oneself, we need to pay close attention to the season, the condition of the plant, it’s response to the weather, and the annual rise and fall of the sap, in accordance to that tree’s physiology.

The timing of flowering season, determines the pruning time.

Spring-flowering plants such as forsythia, Quince, most rhododendrons and azaleas, viburnum, daphne, pieris, and duetzia, should be pruned immediately after flowering. Next years’ buds begin to form immediately after flowers fade and late pruning will remove them. Too late for them now. The only dormant season pruning for spring blooming in thinning or removal of dead, dying, diseased or unruly wood. If you head back a spring bloomer, in fall or winter, you’ve lost your flower for that year.

Summer flowering plants such as grape myrtle, hibiscus, abelia, chaste tree, butterfly bush, blue beard, hydrangea and late blooming prunifolium, which usually form their flower buds on the current season’s wood, can and should be pruned in October or November.

Winter bloomers such as some daphne species, winter jasmine, winter honeysuckle can be treated as spring bloomers and pruned after blooming.
It’s too late now to prune trees that bleed sap profusely, such as beech, maple, birch, dogwood, elms, flowering plums and cherries, willows and yellow wood. It’s best to prune in late spring or summer after the leaves have matured.

Dead, damaged, decayed or infested wood can be removed almost any time. If disease is involved, Isopropyl alcohol is a good disinfectant to use (won’t rust, too!) before moving onto the next plant.

Water sprouts, suckers, crossing/rubbing or out of control branches can be thinned out any time. However, if the plant is dormant (leaves fallen away) it is easier to see the tree’s structure.

Thinning is the selective removal of a branch. The cut is made at the branch and collar, almost flush but leaving the collar and never a stub.

It encourages remaining limbs to continue to grow naturally and in their normal direction.

It opens up the plant, reducing loads from wind, rain, or snow and allows sunlight to reach in the innermost branches. It can also open a view, without removing a tree.

At season’s end, be sure to polish all steel parts of your tools with steel wood to prevent rust and store in a dry place. Lubricate moving parts and sharpen tools in preparation for next season. .

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