More on how to properly prune

Don’t be afraid to give your fruit trees and bushes a healthy trim

86481700_20970180_300_3740_5607_C_R_jpgContinuing last month’s pruning topic, it’s come to my attention that folks are scared of pruning wrong. To that I say, go by the three-beer pruning method. Drink three beers, and then go out and prune, making sure you do NOT use the chainsaw.

As you’re pruning, you will realize how fun it is, and you don’t care if you snip the wrong branch or not.

Just don’t drive a vehicle for several hours afterwards.

(And of course, you could go the three glasses of Chardonnay or Bordeaux or whatever fermented grape beverage you enjoy. Or if ­fermented grains are your choice, go that route.)

This really isn’t to be flippant. Well, not totally.

Most people are scared of ­pruning the wrong branch and destroying their tree, especially when it comes to fruit trees. But pruning is a little like ­raising a baby. The first one scares you to death and you overcompensate. By the time the third or fourth one comes around, you don’t worry about every burp, rash or cry.

Pruning is the same way. The more you do it, the easier it becomes. And you realize that the one big problem is if you drop the tree on its head. Oops, I meant cut it at ground level.

And like kids, plants tend to be tougher than we think.

When it comes to fruit trees, smaller trees such as crabapples, dogwoods and redbuds, and flowering shrubs, “doing it wrong” is more akin to losing flowers and fruit and not the plants.

Like shade trees, there are a few tips to follow when pruning the smaller plants:

✂ Try to maintain the natural shape of the plant as much as possible. Sadly, plants don’t have all the same natural shape, much like people. Sure they look the same when small, but as they get ­bigger, they can be tall and narrow or short and wide.
Think balanced or ­symmetrical. If you were 25 feet above the plant, it should look circular. If there is a limb going to the east, nearby should be a limb going to the west. Of course, this falls apart if the plant is shaded, as every limb will reach toward the light. As you are pruning, try to balance out the plant. It doesn’t make a difference what type.

✂ The more light you provide to the branches, the better they’ll grow. For many fruit trees this means pruning so the center of the plant is more open than dense. This is why fruit trees look so different in the orchard. Allowing more light ­produces more flowers and more fruit.
That’s why hedges shouldn’t be pruned into squares but the old trapezoids, with the top much narrower than the base and the sides flaring out.

✂ Prune to direct growth outward instead of inward. You do this by cutting to an outward pointing bud. (Buds grow the way they point. If you prune to a bud on the underside of the branch, the limb will grow that way.)

✂ Branches shouldn’t really cross or rub against each other. Prune the weaker ones out. If that’s too hard to determine, just go with the technical eeny-meeny-miny-moe.

✂ Anything that is diseased or dead should be removed. Anything causing problems with safety should also be pruned out.

David Robson is Extension Specialist, Pesticide Safety for the University of Illinois. drobson@illinois.edu

David Robson is Extension Specialist, Pesticide Safety for the University of Illinois. drobson@illinois.edu

✂ Don’t worry if you prune too much. The plant may respond by growing too much. But these young shoots are easier to prune to the correct direction.

✂ And if you prune and remove all the flower buds, which is why spring pruning occurs AFTER the plant has bloomed, don’t worry. You haven’t killed the plant. It will still leaf out and grow; you’ll just have to wait another year for the flowers.

✂ There’s no need for anything to seal the pruning cut. They make you feel good but do little for the tree. Save your money for liquid refreshments the next time you prune.

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