How to - Techniques

Stimulate growth by learning to trim at the right time

Tree pruning

Because spring is also the time when sap flows, tree pruning should be kept to a minimum. Yet early spring is the best time to deal with tree branches damaged by winter winds. If left untended, these broken branches can fall, tearing off a strip of bark and leaving a large, slow-to-heal wound that is an entry point for disease and insects (not to mention the danger to anything—or anyone—directly below). If pruning means taking both feet off the ground, it's best to hire a certified arborist. But if the branch is small or within reach, you can remove it yourself. Here's how.

pruningdiagram.jpgBefore you start the final pruning, remove the bulk of the broken branch to lighten weight and lessen the risk of tearing the bark (see illustration). Close to the trunk, but not right against it, the branch should suddenly flare out. This is the branch collar, which contains active cells that will start to grow, sealing off the injury and allowing the wound to heal. Carefully cut off the stub of the damaged branch just beyond the branch collar (out from the trunk beyond where the rough, thicker bark ring is located). Make a small undercut first, then cut down from above to meet the initial cut (this prevents the bark from tearing). Don't use wound paint; it's been shown to slow healing and increase the chance of infection.

Apart from dealing with broken branches, the only other spring pruning you need to do on trees is to remove the water shoots or spouts, which are those fast-growing, thin, vertical shoots without side branches. They appear on many species but are especially noticeable on apples and crabapples, and most frequently arise on branches that grow almost parallel to the ground.

Rose and clematis cuttings
Depending on where you live, roses may need fairly severe spring pruning to remove winter injury, or just a light shaping. For example, most of the shrub roses, such as rugosa hybrids and Explorer and Parkland roses, simply need to have their dead wood—and likely some of their oldest shoots—removed. On the other hand, if there's winterkill, hybrid teas and floribundas should be cut back to healthy wood. Don't be in a great hurry to tackle this. If left alone, seemingly dead shoots can suddenly show signs of life. It's best to wait until their buds have started to swell, then prune directly above an outward-facing bud so the new shoot grows away from the centre of the plant.

Clematis is trickier. They flower at different times throughout the season and their pruning requirements vary greatly, with some being cut almost to the ground in spring and others not being pruned at all at this time. In general, the late-flowering types are pruned in spring, but the degree of pruning can vary. Consult any good clematis book for specific directions on what to do for your varieties.


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