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GARDENING : It's Time to Trim the Tree--and Shrubs

November 25, 1995|From Associated Press

If your property has trees and shrubs, you should do a little pruning and trimming from time to time. When left to their own growth patterns, trees and shrubs often grow unevenly.

Although in many instances pruning is merely cosmetic, in others it can save or extend the life of a plant. In nearly all cases, it will improve appearances.

Uneven growth may be endemic to a species, or it may simply occur in response to stressful weather conditions. In still other cases, a relatively well-shaped tree may simply grow into trouble, as when spreading branches threaten to damage a roof.

In most cases, careful removal of the offending limbs, buds or sprouts can mean the difference between a troublesome eyesore and a healthy, attractive complement to your home.

When to prune?

If done at the wrong time of year, pruning can prevent flowering, expose the plant to damaging insects and rot, and produce abnormal growth the following year. Because of the great variety of trees and shrubs grown today, and because of climate and geography factors, get professional advice from a garden center. Basic guidelines:

For non-flowering trees, spring and fall prunings produce the least stress. For flowering trees and shrubs, determine on which type of wood the flowers bud and bloom. Roses, for example, emerge on first-year growth, so a judicious early-spring pruning will stimulate growth and encourage more buds.

Forsythia, by contrast, bloom on second-year growth. In this case, prune shortly after flowering. That way, this year's growth will be next year's flowers.

Apple trees produce from growth several years old. As such, timing is not so critical.

Limb size and position determine which tools to use and how to approach the work. Small branches, no greater than three-eighths of an inch in diameter, can be handled with pruning shears.

Branches up to 1 1/4 inches in diameter are easy to cut with loppers, whose long handles provide plenty of leverage. Larger branches require a bow saw, which cuts on the forward stroke, or a limb saw, which cuts on the back stroke.

When approaching any limb, consider the weight that it supports. If the limb is too heavy, a single top-down cut will likely cause the limb to break before the final strokes are completed and may strip its bark all the way to the trunk.

The best approach in this case is to cut twice. First cut through the bark on the bottom of the limb. Then cut the limb off from the top, just ahead of the bottom cut.

If the limb you remove is larger than one inch in diameter, seal the wound against insects, mold and rot with a pruning seal, sometimes called a wound seal or tree paint. This tar-like substance is inexpensive and will last several seasons.

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