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Dormant Pruning - Part 2

by Dan Eskelson on Apr 30, 2012

Please also visit, Part 1 - The Art and Science of Pruning

Visualization is an extremely important skill that will help in your pruning efforts. For this reason, I've created some simple line drawings and uploaded them within this article

Pruning cuts must be made with full knowledge of future consequences, relying on our perception, or visualization, of the plant's growth characteristics, intended use, age, and desired form. Various plant forms are "created," early in the plant's life, by choosing new growth which will eventually produce the desired shape. The growth that does not conform to our visualization is removed.

For example, the vase, or open center, tree relies on a short, strong vertical trunk to support several main leaders, which in turn supports numerous "laterals." Choose leaders which emerge from the trunk at approximately a 10 o'clock or 2 o'clock angle; these will provide the strength necessary to hold future growth, snow and ice loads and the crop. Leaders must be spaced evenly around the trunk.

PruningAs leaders enlarge over the years, choose the laterals which directly hold foliage, flowers and/or fruit. By visualizing the mature form and understanding growth habits, proper spacing of laterals is achieved. For instance, an apple needs room to mature with plenty of light and air, but this vigorously growing tree continually sends out excess growth which will stunt the development of fruit (as well as limiting total plant health).

With regular pruning, saw cuts are seldom necessary - but if they are, *take great caution*. In Fig. 2 notice that the final cut is slightly outside the trunk line and angled down and outward. This ensures that the trunk's sap flow will produce the healing tissue which will eventually seal the cut. Many trees have been lost or seriously deformed by the improper saw cuts. Don *not* use tree paint or any other sealer on pruning cuts. If you are not sure of your technique, call a professional.

The most common error of amateur pruners is leaving "stubs." When heading back, always cut just above a bud - or just above lateral growth. When thinning entire branches, cut back to the source growth. See Fig. 3. Stubs invite rot - *Do not leave stubs!*How to Cut - Pruning Guide

Vigorously growing plants produce "suckers," rapidly growing, usually vertical, shoots. Cut these yearly, or they will restrict air and light from the middle of the plant and eventually become dominant over properly positioned growth. One exception to this rule is when reworking older trees or shrubs, a well placed sucker may be chosen to replace a branch too horizontal or otherwise inferior. After one season's growth, cut this sucker back to an outside bud, removing 1/3 to 1/2 of its length.

Care must be taken when pruning old, overgrown trees. A thorough job completed in one season will seriously weaken, or possibly even kill the tree - spread this renovation pruning over three years to limit shock to the tree.

Pruning Formal HedgesWhen pruning hedge plants, be sure to angle the sides slightly outward from top to bottom; otherwise, lower portions of the plant will not receive enough light, will become thin, and eventually leave bare areas - see Fig. 4.

To summarize briefly - remember to visualize the ideal form of the plant and make each cut contribute to that form. Remove diseased, dead or damaged wood and remove branches which cross (or those which you see *will* cross or otherwise conflict). In general, favor growth which grows outward overgrowth which grows back toward the middle of the plant.

*Always* use a sharp pruning, and *never* leave stubs. This basic discussion of the art and science of pruning will get you off to a good start, but before going out to prune the whole yard, gather additional information from a good book and/or lessons from an experienced pruner.

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