Mild Days & Mid-Winter Pruning

February 19th, 2012 Comments Off

Although the Ice and Snow are Beautiful, Winter Damage Must be Cleaned Up Every Year & Now is the Best Time to Tackle Major Structural Tasks (Above: Acer palmatum ‘Bloodgood’) …

Although the old “prune in June” rule applies to certain woody plants in some situations —-those that blossom in early spring, such as lilacs (click here for how/when to prune lilacs) or the removal of suckers from the base of tree trunks, for example— and of course broken branches can and should always be removed whenever they are noticed, major structural pruning of deciduous trees and shrubs is best tackled during winter dormancy. I love winter pruning tasks, and find that warm, sunny days in late February, March and even early April (depending upon your climate, of course) are perfect for shaking off cabin fever and getting back in the garden! But, before you start cutting, take the time to clean and sharpen your tools, and take a long walk around the garden; examining the skeletal form of your plants while keeping an eye out for winter damage caused by heavy snow-loads, ice and wind. See any cracked branches or snapped limbs on your ornamental trees and shrubs? Any damaged trees or large shrubs located near power lines should be dealt with by a professional landscape contractor or arborist. But small pruning tasks —especially those within easy reach— can be handled by most gardeners at this time of the year.

Red Twig Dogwood Adds a Beautiful Glow to the Winter Landscape. I Thin 1/3 of the Stems Each Year —Cutting Each Shoot All the Way Back to the Ground— in Late Winter or Early Spring to Encourage New Growth with the Beautiful Bright-Red Bark! (Of course, always wait ’til the ice melts before pruning branches and limbs).

Much as I love sculpting trees and shrubs to achieve their finest form for my clients, I get even more excited by the opportunity to teach other gardeners how to correctly prune the woody plants in their home landscapes, all by themselves! And as intimidating as it may seem, there’s nothing complicated about the process of pruning. A good book (such as this favorite by Lee Reich), a sharp pair of bypass pruners, and a broken branch or forgiving/neglected old shrub are all you really need to get started. For an introduction to pruning basics, travel back to a post from 2009 by clicking here.

Crushed Witch Alder (Fothergilla major): What a Mess! Click Here for Tips on How to Prune Out Winter-Damaged Branches

Below are three basic pruning cuts to practice. Remember, always clean and sharpen blades between specimens. For more specific tips, begin by revisiting my previous introductory article, and the cut-specific posts linked below!

Removing a Broken or Damaged Limb: Learn how to correctly make this cut with a Grecian Saw: click back to a detailed, tutorial post by here.

Learn how to properly prune plants with opposite budding patterns, like this Hydrangea, by clicking back to my tutorial post on the subject here.

Shrubs and trees with alternate budding and branching patterns require a slightly angled cut, sloping away from the bud. Learn more about how to prune alternate branches in my previous post here.

Post-pruning clean-up time. All pruning tools are cleaned with rubbing alcohol, sharpened with a whetstone, and oiled before returning to the garden room for storage

Felco 8 bypass pruners are the perfect tool for tending to the small branches of ornamental trees and shrubs as well as fruit-bearing woody-specimens in your landscape. Click here for more pruning tool suggestions.

Lee Reich: The Pruning Book - I Consider This Book an All-Time, Garden-Maintenance Classic!

Photographs and Text ⓒ Michaela Medina/The Gardener’s Eden. All photos, articles and content on this site (with noted exceptions) are the original, copyrighted property of The Gardener’s Eden and may not be reposted, reproduced or used in any way without prior written consent. Contact information is in the left side bar. Thank you!

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Spring Clean-Up Part One: Pruning Damaged Limbs in Tight Spaces Using The Handy, Folding ‘Grecian’ Saw, Plus… A Special Giveaway!

April 9th, 2011 § 15

A young Acer palmatum ‘Bloodgood’ in my garden. This photo was taken last spring during a passing shower, just as the beautifully vibrant red leaves began to unfold

I love all trees, but I have to admit that in particular, I am a very, very fond of Japanese maples. And in spite of the fact that they can be difficult to grow in cold climates, every year I add a new, hardy specimen to my garden. The first Japanese maple I planted when I bought my land ten years ago was Acer palmatum ‘Bloodgood’. A lovely tree with dark, oxblood colored leaves and fine structural form, ‘Bloodgood’ is a commonly grown Japanee maple cultivar in the northeast; mainly due to its hardiness. But in spite of this tree’s tolerance for cold, one of the biggest challenges to growing Japanese maples in the northern climates —breakage due to heavy snow and ice accumulation— remains a problem with this and many other ornamental trees with complex branch angles and patterns. Preliminary pruning and training helps to set up a strong framework for ornamental trees —to withstand winter’s weighty precipitation— but some breakage is inevitable during ice storms with heavy accumulation.

Perhaps you’ll recall this image, of the Acer palmatum ‘Bloodgood’ in my garden, taken during the last of many ice storms in late winter of this year. Fortunately, only one branch cracked beneath the weight of the ice, and it was one I’d considered removing late last summer anyway.

When damage does occur on a Japanese maple, and on many other trees, one of the toughest maintenance tasks is pruning out broken limbs without damaging the bark and healthy wood on the nearby trunk and branches. Making cuts in tight spaces (like the one pictured below) can be difficult unless you have the right tool on hand. Hand-held bypass pruners (like those shown in the last post) are fine for branches and limbs up to 1/2″  in diameter. But when the limb is thicker, it’s best to switch to a pruning saw. When I need to cut a moderately sized limb —several inches thick— particularly  in tight and awkward spaces, I reach for my handy folding saw. Sometimes this pruning tool is referred to as a Grecian or Japanese-blade pruning saw. This type of saw has teeth —arranged in an arc on the inside of a blade— and folds up neatly into a compact size (see photos below). Designed to cut on the pull-stroke, these saws makes quick, clean work of tree limb removal.

This limb is too large to cut with bypass pruners, and the angle is too tight for my bow saw. So, the tool of choice?

The handy folding saw! This type of saw is sometimes called a ‘Grecian’ saw, or a ‘Japanese blade’ pruning saw.

Here’s what it looks like fully extended. When I’m finished using it, I can just close it up an put it in my back pocket (no worries about stabbing myself!)

Sometimes —when a branch is split or badly mangled by a storm, weak or crossing and rubbing a near-by branch—  it’s necessary to completely remove the tree limb. Knowing how to properly make this type of pruning cut is very important to the long term health of trees in your garden. Cut too far from the trunk and you are left with an ugly stub, which invites disease and further breakage. Cut too close to the main trunk, damaging the branch collar, and you risk exposing the entire tree to disease and opportunistic parasites. But, fear not. This cut isn’t difficult to make when you take your time, follow a patient process and use the right tool. To remove the damaged limb on my Japanese maple, first, I made a preliminary cut on the branch, removing the weight and leaving a long stub. Next, I undercut the remaining limb with a short 1/4″ deep cut. This will prevent cracking and tearing of the limb when I make my final cut from the top. Carefully observe where the ridge meets with the main trunk, and look for the wrinkly collar’s edge. Just beyond this spot is where the limb should be cleanly and neatly cut. Find your line and cleanly cut through as shown. Any ragged edges should be cleaned up with a sharp pruning knife. Soon the open area on the Japanese maple trunk will grey up, callus over and blend right in with the rest of the tree. At this time of year in cold climates, a Japanese maple (And other maple trees, and sap running species like birch) will weep when cut. This will not harm the tree. This wounded tree was weeping sap from the jagged break anyway. However, I do try to limit my cuts on trees with actively running sap at this time of year. I only remove what I absolutely need to, in order to prevent disease and speed up the ‘healing’ process.

When removing a long limb, particularly a heavy one, I begin by taking off some of the weight and making room to work with an initial cut farther out on the branch. Reducing the weight also decreases the likelihood of tears in my final cut near the branch collar.

Next, I make an undercut on the branch. This cut will be approximately 1/4 through the branch. This is another insurance cut; preventing a crack in the wood or tear in the bark when I remove the stub branch from the top.

This photo is little bigger, because I want you to really see the wrinkly edge of the branch collar. Do you see the ridge just to the left of the blade, where where the main trunk meets the limb and the wrinkly ‘collar’ just past that? Well, it’s important to get nice and close to that wrinkly collar with a clean, flush cut. But, it’s equally important NOT to saw into the branch collar. The cleaner and straighter the cut, the faster and easier it will be for the cells to quickly cover the open wound and for the callus to protect the tree from insects and disease.

Cut clean and close, this wood will quickly callus over and soon blend in with the surrounding trunk. Sometimes, a limb will break right at that collar margin. If the tree injury is located in this area, carefully cut as straight a line as possible, and clean up any ragged edges of wood with a pruning knife. The more even the wood, the less area will need to be covered by new cells, and the faster the tree will callus.

Felco’s Folding Saw is the right tool for pruning branches and limbs up to 3″ in diameter, particularly in tight places. You can order one from Amazon.com by clicking on the image or text link here. Or….

In honor of this blog’s second anniversary this month, I will be giving away several gifts at random, starting with a pruning saw, like the one pictured above. For your chance to win this handy tool, simply comment on this blog post before 12:00 pm, noon Eastern Time, April 11, 2011. Be sure to leave your email address (will not be visible here, nor will it be shared or sold) so that I can contact you if you win. And, one last thing… Let me know what your favorite thing is about this blog, and what you’d like to see more of this year! I’d love your feedback. Thank you for following The Gardener’s Eden ! xo Michaela

The winner will be chosen at random from comments received prior to noon ET 4/11/2011. One entry per household, per giveaway please. Drawing will take place and winners will be announced here, on Facebook and Twitter, on Tuesday, 4/12/2011. Saw will be shipped to the winning reader at the end of the month. Due to shipping constraints, this giveaway is open to US and Canadian readers of The Gardener’s Eden only. All taxes, tariffs, duties or fees not directly associated with shipping and handling will be the responsibility of the winner.Good luck!

The Winner of the Folding Pruning Saw is: Michelle Kraetschmer! Congratulations, Michelle.

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Article and photographs are copyright Michaela at The Gardener’s Eden, all rights reserved. All content on this site, (with noted exceptions), is the property of The Gardener’s Eden and may not be used, reproduced or reposted elsewhere without written consent. Do you enjoy The Gardener’s Eden? You can help support this site by shopping through affiliate links here. A small percentage of each sale will be paid to this site, helping to cover web hosting and maintenance costs. Thank you so much for your support!

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Spring Clean-Up, Part One: Pruning Winter-Damaged Branches Continues With a Tutorial on Cutting to Alternate & Opposite Buds…

April 7th, 2011 Comments Off

Spring Clean Up Begins in My Garden with the Removal of Winter-Damaged Branches and Limbs on Woody Plants

I’ve been tending other people’s gardens for more than a decade, and although I am officially eliminating maintenance from my professional services this year —making more time for design work, teaching and writing— that doesn’t mean I won’t be doing physical work in gardens. Quite the contrary. I love gardening, particularly garden maintenance. The physical part of gardening is exactly what attracted me to horticulture in the first place. Gardening —digging, planting, raking, weeding, pruning, etc— is great fun for me! But as with most things, people tend to enjoy tasks that they are good at doing. So, my new goal is to help other gardeners gain more confidence, and have more fun with maintenance, by sharing some of what I’ve learned in my years of experience as a professional gardener.

Pruning is one of those tasks that tends to intimidate both new and experienced gardeners, and even some seasoned pros. With all of the dos and don’t associated with pruning, it’s easy for me to understand why gardeners avoid this chore. Knowing when and how to prune the trees and shrubs in your garden can be confusing. So, I’m going to start this spring’s tutorial sessions with the absolute basics. In my previous post, I mentioned the importance of using clean, sharp tools when pruning. This point can not be over-stated, so if you haven’t read the first post, stop here and go back to review pruning tools and how to care for them.

For our first lesson, lets start with the most important pruning a gardener can do: cutting to clean up damaged and diseased wood. This type of pruning can and should take place whenever you notice it. However, at this time of year —late winter and early spring— damage tends to be most evident. Removing damaged wood trumps concerns about when a shrub or tree flowers (we will get to the issue of old and new wood, and timing cuts for flowers and fruit a bit later in this series). When cleaning up broken branches, the key is to make your cut with very sharp pruners, just above a healthy strong bud, or set of buds, aiming in the direction that you want to train the new growth. There are two main types of buds on branches: opposite and alternate. Opposite buds are, exactly as the word sounds, opposite from one another on the branch or stem (see photo below). When you need to cut branches with opposite buds, make your cut as close as possible to a healthy set of buds —without bumping or grazing the tender nibs— cleanly cutting straight across the healthy wood. Never leave a long stub, as this wood will die-back; decaying, rotting and inviting disease. If you cut clean and close to a new set of buds, they will quickly develop strong, healthy new shoots in both directions. If you only want growth in an outward-facing direction —to open up a shrub for example— then gently rub off the inward-facing bud with your finger. Here’s how a simple cut is made on opposite-facing buds…

Cutting to a pair of opposite buds on Hydrangea paniculata. The cut is made as close as possible —leading with the sharpest part of your blade closest to the bud— without touching and damaging the buds themselves. I like to use the line on the thick blade (backside of the pruners) as a spacing guide when making this kind of cut.

After the cut, only a small amount of wood remains above the two untouched buds. The two buds will develop into healthy shoots.

Alternate buds look like rungs on a pole ladder. They alternate from side to side, instead of opposite one another (see photo below). If the branch of a shrub or tree with an alternate bud pattern has been damaged, it should be cut back to an outward-facing bud on solid, healthy wood. With alternate buds, it’s also important to make the cut as close to —but not touching— the bud itself. With this type of growth pattern, gently slope the cut away from the bud, so that water will drain away from the developing shoot (aim for a 20-25° angle).

Alternate buds on Buddleja alternifolia argentea (Fountain Butterfly Bush). Unlike B. davidii, which flowers on new wood, B. alternifolia blossoms on old wood. In spring, I remove damaged wood only, carefully cutting to a healthy bud. After flowering, I will prune this shrub for shape (it can be trained to a standard, or allowed to follow its natural ‘fountain’ form).

Position the sharp part of the blade near the bud —but not touching— and make the cut, sloping gently away from the bud. This will help water shed away from the new shoot, preventing rot. Never leave a stub longer than 1/4″, as it will die back, and invite disease. Again, with this type of cut, I use the line on the thick part of the blade as my guide. By holding the pruners with the thin blade nearest the bud, I can watch the distance and avoid cutting too close.

The way this branch is cut will direct growth outward, away from the shrub. The gentle slope —starting just above the top of the bud— allows for water to shed away from the new shoot, preventing rot. Again, never allow a long stub to remain above the bud, but take care not to injure the delicate new growth when you make your cut. With practice, this will become easier.

When I teach pruning, I always encourage gardeners to build confidence by practicing cuts on undesirable scrub, broken branches or discarded limbs on a brush pile. This way, if your cuts are less-than-acceptable, you can keep cutting until you get it right, without worrying about mutilating your precious garden plants! Look for alternate and opposite bud patterns to practice your cutting skills. Once you feel confident in your ability to make steady cuts, begin working on the broken branches of ornamental shrubs in your garden. Roses and hydrangea are frequently damaged and suffer die-back in winter. Learning these basic cuts will help you to maintain attractive and healthy woody plants.

Stay tuned for more pruning tutorials. Next, we will tackle small tree limbs with a Grecian (folding) saw, and learn about the join between tree trunks, branch-collars and tree limbs! And if you happen to be gardening in New England, and would like to attend my April 16th pruning seminar —a free event sponsored by Walker Farm in Dummerston, Vermont— please visit Walker Farm’s website for details, and reserve your seat now… Space is limited!

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Article and photographs are copyright Michaela at The Gardener’s Eden, all rights reserved. All content on this site, (with noted exceptions), is the property of The Gardener’s Eden and may not be used, reproduced or reposted elsewhere without written consent. Do you enjoy The Gardener’s Eden? You can help support this site by shopping through affiliate links here. A small percentage of each sale will be paid to this site, helping to cover web hosting and maintenance costs. Thank you so much for your support!

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Preparing the Garden for Winter: Protect Young, Ornamental & Fruit Trees from Gnawing Rodents…

November 11th, 2010 § 3

My young Royal Frost birch (Betula populifolia x Whitespire ‘Royal Frost’) tree’s golden-orange foliage in November

Several years ago, when my father had heart surgery at the VA hospital in Boston, I was away from home quite a bit during the last three months of the year. Preoccupied with my dad’s health and juggling various responsibilities during his recovery, I neglected end-of-season chores in my garden. Later on, as the first month of winter passed and my father’s condition improved, I found myself staring at a box of unplanted bulbs and a check list of unfinished tasks.

Soon, spring arrived. Waves of forced bulbs —potted and chilled in late December— began to emerge from the depths of my refrigerator. Although I regretted not getting my little treasures into the ground, I was grateful for the bright color of early tulips and tiny, fragrant narcissus when the snow began to recede; exposing muddy patches of half-frozen earth. Later, as I began rummaging around my cellar in search of gardening tools, I made a grim discovery: an entire box of wire cages that never made it around the trunks of my young trees. My heart sank. I looked out into the Secret Garden —at my still-buried Japanese maple— and I knew that I was in trouble. Immediately I raced out the front door and down the steps to my beloved Blue Green Dragon (aka ‘Seiryu’) at the Secret Garden Door. I began furiously digging at the foot of ice and snow still mounded ’round the tree trunk. My cold, raw fingers felt of the smooth bark for tell-tale signs of mouse-damage; scratches, gouges or ridges. Eventually, after clearing the entire base of the tree, I breathed an enormous sigh of relief. No rodent damage here. But then, I turned my attention to the Japanese maple inside the Secret Garden -my beautiful ‘Butterfly’.

The gorgeous spring colors of Acer palmatum ‘Butterfly’(from Almost Eden Plants)

I went inside to grab a pair of gloves and shovel. Snow always drifts and piles higher inside the Secret Garden, and the shade prevents early melting. As I began digging, I quickly uncovered a cylindrical channel leading from one of the stone walls toward the tree. Drawing closer to the trunk, I could see tiny bits of bark scattered about the white tunnel. I slumped down in the snow. Still digging, as I uncovered one side of the stripped trunk, I started to cry. I knew what I would find, and I was right. The tree had been completely girdled (living bark gnawed clean off in a full circle around the trunk). If you’ve never seen this kind of rodent-damage before, my reaction may seem a bit over-dramatic. But if you’ve ever experienced the heartbreak of losing a beloved tree or shrub to winter girdling, you will understand. The rodents must have begun their chewing after the sap started to run in late February. As the weather warmed, the tree began to leaf out. What a pathetic scene. The gorgeous crimson-tipped leaves and coral-pink stems taunted me as I watched them unfurl; knowing that this would be my beautiful, young tree’s last spring. I couldn’t bear to dig it up, and I couldn’t stand to walk through the garden.

The beautiful leaves of The Blue Green Dragon (Acer palmatum x dissectum ‘Seiryu’) in Springtime

Eventually, I came to accept reality, and I removed the ‘Butterfly’ from my garden. I could not find another specimen, so I changed course, dug up the earth, and planted a young Stewartia pseudocamilla in her place. She is, of course, stunning in that spot. And one day, I will create another protected nook and bring a new ‘Butterfly’ to my garden.

If you have young trees and shrubs with tender bark in your garden, protecting those valuable plants from winter rodent damage is absolutely essential. Every November, I pull out my homemade wire tubes and surround the base of my precious plants. You can buy protective tree tubes at many garden centers, or easily make your own from fine wire mesh sheeting (available at most hardware stores). I had extra metal lath leftover from several construction projects, and that works well too. The important thing is that the spaces between the wires be small enough to prevent the tiniest of mice from slipping into the tube. Make the width of the cylinder about twice the diameter of the tree, and at least 18″ tall (depending on average snow depth, you may want to make your cylinder two feet tall)  For extra insurance, I often spray the bark of my trees with hot pepper wax before securing the wire tubes, and I also pour a few inches of sharp gravel around the base of the tube to prevent tunneling.

Gently settle the tube around the tree and push slightly into the mulch. Take care not to damage shallow-rooted trees like Japanese maple by pushing wire into the tender roots at the surface.

Secure the tube with medium-guage steel wire. Gasp! Put down those Felcos! Use wire cutters to snip that steel!

Secure the tube well, tucking the wire beneath itself to prevent injury to your fingers in springtime

This is what the tube looks like when properly installed around the base of the tree. Once you have made them, you can easily recycle them from year to year. Replace them every November. Larger trees can withstand a bit of mouse gnawing. Mature trees, with tough bark, rarely experience gnawing. But, I protect all of my smooth-barked specimen trees. It only takes about a half an hour to do my entire (very large) garden.

Japanese Golden Forest Grass (Hachonechloa macra ‘Aureola’) continues to provide late season color in the Secret Garden, and…

It also provides a bit of camouflage for my Stewartia’s protective, wire tree-tube

Before long, the silver-grey tubes in my garden will be buried beneath the snow. But because I am a garden designer, I am very preoccupied with how the garden looks throughout the seasons. So, I try to plant a ‘screen’ at the base of my young trees to help conceal these seasonal tubes in late autumn. In the photo above, golden Japanese forest grass (Hakonechloa macra ‘Aureola’) and Heuchera ‘Palace Purple’ provide a fine camouflage.

And although I still pine for my ‘Butterfly’, I accept that sometimes accidents happen. My garden is important to me, but my family and friends are far more important. I’m happy to report that thanks to the team of medical professionals at the VA Hospital in West Roxbury, MA, my father made a full recovery from the heart surgery that saved his life. And every year on November 11th, as I go out in the morning to faithfully wrap my trees, I am reminded of the many veterans I met during my father’s stay at the Veterans Hospital four years ago. Thank you for your service to our country dad, and thank you to all of your brothers and sisters in arms. We are ever-grateful for your sacrifice, and we salute you.

A Time of Reflection- Veterans Day, November 11th

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Article and Photographs (with exception noted & linked) ⓒ Michaela at TGE

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