A GROWING CONCERN: End the year by cutting deadwood out of your life

HERE WE ARE, the month of December — now comes my favorite time of the year because of my new job list.

Since we have had some cold weather and are in the longest nights, now is the ideal time to prune your edible fruit bearing trees, along with most other deciduous plants.

But before we dive into the reasons why, I want to lay down some tenants on all pruning.

As I see it, all gardeners need to follow these three principles to efficiently and with skill execute proper technique.

1. Have confidence

Don’t be afraid to cut. I believe the number one reason for poor pruning is the inability of people to cutaway vast amounts of an overgrown plant, especially if they see flowers coming on or have an emotional connection to the bush.

Roses are a prime example, as folks just can’t bring themselves to remove stocks, especially during the late spring when buds are developing and flowers are soon to be harvested.

Yet, timber! Down they go to a few feet or less.

Gardening isn’t always pretty, so be prepared to cut away 30 percent to 50 percent or more of certain plants — never more than 33 percent on fruit trees.

Remember, pruning is good.

2. Learn to see the inner plant

I know this seems corny, but I never, ever prune any plant without imagining the finished plant in my mind.

There is a perfect place to prune each plant for ideal results. The thought is that many plants have interior layers, and pruning along these lines gives the plants a natural instead of butchered look.

Many plants have stems or branches that must be cut out regardless because they are either old (lilacs, rose’s, dogwoods), they cross over other branches (apples, cherries, magnolias), they are sucker shoots (all fruit trees, sand plums, cherries, contorted filberts) or they are just plain out of the perfect shape (weeping Birch, Japanese maple, evergreen anything).

So before you begin to prune, you must step back, look carefully at the structure of the plant, see the finished inner plant and prepare to set it free.

3. Every cut must have a reason

This is the quintessential essence of pruning above all else.

Plant butchery is when you take a shear, hedge saw, chainsaw, axe or loppers and just hack away at a certain amount of feet because the view, window, path or building just happens to be there.

Pruning is when you step back, think about how the growth will occur from pruning (all pruning stimulates), then calculate the length of growth until the next pruning.

Now here come the two most important rules in pruning: First, always prune on a node (heading cut). A node is that critical area on any stem or a branch bud or leaf originates.

There does not have to be a leaf present.

A node shows itself as a distinct mark on the stem or branch.

Almost always it is a line running around the stem was some kind of mark at the exact stop or the new growth will emerge.

This is the rub, for the second rule is that new growth takes off from that point.

It grows in that direction at an accelerated rate, due to stimulation by the prune.

More than 75 percent of the growth rate will occur within the new growth.

So in pruning, not only are you looking for a node to cut on top of, but you also are looking for a node that has the direction of growth desired.

For roses, you want to “open up” the plant for air circulation and outward growth.

An apple tree would be pruned at nodes pointing downward, creating arching branches for easy fruit picking later.

Never forget that cutting close atop a node releases plant chemicals that not only stimulate growth but also, like our own blood, seals off the cut.

Cutting between nodes (inter-node) leaves a “horn” that can rot and get disease, ruining the whole plant.

Second, if new growth is not what you want — and many times you do not —if you want to permanently stop and remove growth from an area or plant, a cut right at the point where one branch radiates from another is the only other option (a thinning cut).

By removing branches stems, and radials at the point where they originated from, this growth will be gone and not return. This thins the plant.

Now, you must not leave a horn, so the cut must be close to the plant part you are severing away from.

On larger branches, do an undercut, sawing up from the bottom first, so when cut through, it does not peel away the precious bark.

With the new year just around the corner, doesn’t it seem prudent that you will be cutting some deadwood off your “tree of life,” stimulating new growth and increasing future production?

Keep a change of rain gear and gloves handy because in this wet weather, you’re going to be needing dry clothes and gear in order to prune.


Andrew May is a freelance writer and ornamental horticulturist who dreams of having Clallam and Jefferson counties nationally recognized as “Flower Peninsula USA.” Send him questions c/o Peninsula Daily News, P.O. Box 1330, Port Angeles, WA 98362, or email news@peninsuladailynews.com (subject line: Andrew May).

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