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Publication: Garden Guides
Pruning Is Easy When You Learn the Pruning Principles

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                   GardenGuides Newsletter 
                      October 10, 2006

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Plant Label Ideas

* Map It 
Quite a few gardeners have had good luck with garden maps. 
Typically, this involves drawing out beds on graph paper, 
then using circles and numbers to place the plants.

* Picture This 
Digital cameras are all the rage, judging from the number of 
respondents who mentioned them. You can get instant results 
and there are no film and processing costs. 

* Staking a Claim
Some alternatives to the standard thin wood or plastic 
stake-type labels - Venetian blind slats proved popular, as 
did wooden paint stirrers, plastic picnic knives, wooden 
shims (available in home centers), and cut pieces of old 
metal tape measures.

* Between a Rock 
There were a couple of variations on the idea of painting 
flower names on decorative stones. One person paints bricks 
in bright colors, then adds the name in marker. Another uses 
pre-cut decorative wooden shapes from a crafts store.
* Tagged, You're It 
Many garden centers carry metal tags that you can engrave 
with a sharp stylus, then attach to a plant using wire or 
plastic ties.

* One Word: Plastics 
Gardeners with laminating machines used them to create 
weatherproof labels out of handwritten or computer-generated 
paper labels, which they then attach to wooden stakes.

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Pruning is Easy When You Learn the Pruning Principles!
by Sherry Palmer 

Are you completely confused about pruning your plants? There 
are many excellent pruning manuals available complete with 
details and diagrams, but it seems so complicated that many
gardeners are afraid to tackle this chore. There are several 
principles to understand that make the task much simpler and 
much less intimidating. Once you understand these basics, 
you will be able to follow the instruction manuals with 

Before you prune you should have a clear idea of why you 
want to prune. Then you can choose the proper technique and 
the best time of the year. Pruning can be used to control 
the size, increase or decrease the density, maximize flower-
ing, create special shapes, improve the health, remove a 
hazard, and improve light and air penetration, as well as 
many other reasons. Determine the goal you are trying to 
achieve so you can choose the correct technique and the best 
time to prune. 

Here are a couple of simple rules to remember. They apply to 
all pruning jobs no matter what kind of plant or time of the 

The Three D's Rule says you can prune anytime for the 
following reasons: Damaged - Diseased - Dead. You can prune 
to remove the 3 D's anytime. (If you are removing a fungal 
disease avoid pruning during the time the fungus is 
sporating as that could allow spores to infect new cuts). 
But otherwise it is safe to cut out damaged branches, 
diseased branches, and dead or dying branches any time of 
the year. 

Rule #2 
You can do light pruning anytime. For example if you want to 
remove a stray branch, you don’t have to worry about timing. 
Just cut it off. 

Timing & Technique 
That was easy. Let's get a little more specific. In 
situations other than those above, you will need to consider 
the type of plant you are pruning in addition to the goal 
you are trying to accomplish. There are different techniques 
and times to prune depending on the type of plant. Here is a 
general summary for common types of landscape plants. 

Deciduous Trees 
Do not prune in spring or fall when the sap is running. 
Summer or winter pruning are both acceptable and both 
seasons have their own advantages. 

Technique: Never cut off the end of a branch that is over 3-
inch diameter. Not only is this ugly and looks unnatural, 
but it will cause the growth of 'watersprouts' near the cut 
end. The dense growth of watersprouts cuts off light to the 
inner area of the tree. Instead prune the branch back to a 


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When you remove a branch or cut back to a fork, leave the 
collar (thick area at the base of a branch where it attaches 
to the trunk or another branch). This practice results in 
less cut area exposed and also leaves the cambium tissue 
that is contained in the collar to grow over the wound. 

You can trim branches less than 3-inch diameter using 
selective pruning. Select a bud (swelling on the side of the 
branch where a sprout will emerge) and cut just above it, 
keeping close to the bud. Don't leave a stub. The bark cannot 
heal over the stub and your tree will be susceptible to 
disease and rot. Make a clean cut at a slightly upward angle. 
This will allow the wound to heal quickly, and the slant 
prevents water (which can cause rot and disease) from soaking 
into the wound. The proper tool for this pruning cut is the 
hand pruners, long handled loppers, or a pruning saw for the 
larger branches. 

Conifers - random branching type of conifers 
(These don't have clustered needles, e.g., yellow cedars, 
hemlock, junipers) 

Spring or summer is the ideal time to prune if you want to 
control the size or increase the density of plants such as 
in a hedge. This is the only time you can use a hedge trim-
mer tool. Never use hedge trimmers on any type of plant 
unless you want them to look like a hedge. 

If your goal is to retain the natural look while keeping the 
tree or shrub small, it is important to use a different 
technique and a different tool. Use your pruners or loppers 
to cut back at a fork in the branch instead of the tip. 
Stagger your cuts. Don't cut back all the branches to the 
same length. You may also cut back the leader to shorten it.
You can do this pruning any time of the year. 

Conifers - whorled type 
(have clustered needles, e.g., pines and firs) 

This type of conifer produces new growth called 'candles' at 
the end of the branches. You can control the size by snapping 
off all or part of each candle with your hand. To reduce the 
size and increase the density of the plant, remove the whole 
candle. To reduce the size of the plant without increasing 
the density, remove just part of the candle. The production 
of candles varies by species but occurs in the spring or 
early summer. Do not use this technique after July 4, as 
this could cause contorted growth. 


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If you just want to thin the growth, you can remove branches 
using your pruners or loppers by cutting the branch back to 
a fork. This can be done at any time of the year. I usually 
do it in December so I can use the branches for holiday 

Flowering or fruiting shrubs - deciduous or broadleaf ever-

Flowering or fruiting shrubs can be pruned according to 
whether they flower in spring or summer. Usually the goal is 
to control the size of the shrub and encourage flowers and/
or fruit. So the timing is fairly simple. Don't cut off the 
branches until after they have flowered or set fruit. 

For spring flowering shrubs that time would be in the spring 
or early summer as soon as possible after the flowers have 
faded. The new growth that is produced after the pruning 
will flower next spring. 

For summer flowering or fruiting shrubs, you may want to 
enjoy the fruit, decorative seeds or branching pattern 
during late fall or winter. So you can wait to prune them 
until late winter or early spring. Being cut back completely 
to about 1 ft tall can rejuvenate some species. But if you 
don't want to create a hole in your landscape, you might 
prefer to shape up the top and remove just the older stems 
and trunks leaving some of the younger trunks. Next summer's 
flowers will appear on the new spring growth. 

Keep in mind that for deciduous shrubs you should avoid 
pruning while the sap is flowing - spring or fall. The heal-
ing process is slow in the late fall when the plants are 
preparing to become dormant. Late fall is never a good time 
to prune any plant because pruning tends to promote new 
growth that will not have time to develop a thick cuticle 
to protect it from freezing. Generally it is advisable to 
avoid significant pruning within 6 weeks of frost. 

There are many specialty techniques for special species or 
special effects. But whether you are pruning grapes or roses
or Christmas trees, the techniques will all be based on 
these principles. Be sure to start with a clear idea of what
you want to accomplish, then proceed according to these 
guidelines. This will make understanding the pruning manuals 
much easier.

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