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

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

  1. Nancy Hamilton

    I love your blog for so many reasons: review of gardening points I had forgotten (I’m ‘old’) ;) new gardening lessons I haven’t heard yet; all the beautiful photos that give me new ideas as well as make me appreciate what I have done :) *and especially* a new love for dahlias that had always “scared” me away before :) One of the tools I do not have is a folding saw so it would be wonderful if you pick ME! xo

  2. Jan Zona aka Snowbird

    Congratulations on your second anniversary, I don’t know why it took me almost all of those two years to find you! I’m now a regular visitor to learn from your great gardening tips, marvel at your beautiful photography, delight in your topical/seasonal recipes and articles. I know that is more than one favorite thing, but it’s too hard to choose just one!

    Thank you for sharing your passion with us!

  3. Melissa Ives

    had to remove limbs from an old elm out in California this winter and from live olive trees whose branches obstructed traffic. appreciate the correct way to do these things..
    still love your site

  4. Laurrie

    Great info, and I always need pictures to see what the words are telling me to do. Yours are detailed and so clear!

    My favorite thing about this blog? The plant profiles, not just about a plant in general or a close up of a bloom, but specifically how you have used it in your own garden, its habit, and how you designed with it. I’d like more long shots of your property to see how everything looks together and to ogle design ideas (like the sweet scene in the first photo with the pretty Bloodgood maple.)

    Other favorites include the recipes, and always, always the quality and composition of the photos! Happy second anniversary blogging.

  5. Roxi Phillips

    Perfect timing! I’ve been learning a lot about pruning this spring and am looking for good quality tools that will last for years and this saw would be a great addition! Thanks for the opportunity.

  6. Maureen Newman

    I love reading all your helpful advice about gardening, pruning, designing, and just enjoying the garden. I used to have one of those folding saws but my husband confiscated it for his own use! I need another one! Thanks!


    My favorite thing about your blog are the recipes and Photos.

    I’m a former New Englander who never gardened until I moved out West. Seeing all your beautiful photos makes me homesick for Vermont.

    Loved your coaching on pruning and the importance of sanitation and “clean cuts”. It’s always good to have a refresher before using the pruners!

  8. Lo Merritt

    Sure could have used that saw..about 2 wks ago. We in No Florida have been having a glorious Spring since mid February. Does not bode well for how early and HOT this summer will be. Add in the oil in our Gulf and expect a real mess…I’ve been in the yard for 2 months already. Once it gets hot & humid & ‘skeeters…nuh uh…
    Loved the idea of Paul’s on using a pitchfork to aerate soil. ‘I coulda had a V8’…sometimes the simpliest things evade us…er, me….
    Question: Do you or Paul *sigh* or anyone you know have experience w/straw bale gardening? Got the book; seems pretty straight forward. Just curious….Thanks! Lo in Pensacola, Fl.

  9. Ezekiel Goodband

    I always check your journal at least once a week; the photos are always beautiful. I also appreciate the links to other information, your book reviews and information on tools or boots you’ve found useful. The main reason I look in on this site is for the information on ornamentals; I think you are a very reliable and gifted source of information and the photos are, as I said earlier, just beautiful.

  10. Jane Rexing

    Pick me pick me! I love the variety of topics in your blog. Everything one wants to know on all kinds of gardening areas, including how to use what you grow! Always an interesting read.

  11. Michelle Kraetschmer

    Michaela, I am a farm-girl wanna-be and am starting my own potager this season. Pruning is one of those things I have always been *extremely* intimidated of: I’ve chosen to completely avoid doing it rather than do it incorrectly! Something about doing damage to a plant that would not be apparent immediately and which might result in losing the specimen entirely has always stopped me short. I clearly need to learn how to do it properly so I can care for my plants without fear (and shaking hands – or knees!.

  12. Karen Tandy

    THanks for all your infor on trimming trees, and everything you talk to us about. I am always afraid that I will do the wrong thing and reading your blog is so asuring tome. I always look forward to your post. Happy Spring.

  13. Janna Tegtman

    Your blogs are always very informative..wish I would have found you sooner. Also, the photos posted are beautiful!
    Thank you very much!

  14. Sarah Godbold

    Good Morning Michaela,

    You have no idea what your journal means to me. I have not written as I have not been doing extremely well of late. BUT I am a fighter and will get through this. I totally ditto the comments Laurrie made, my thoughts and hopes exactly. It is all I can do to handle my citrus right now but my dreams of New Hampshire keep me going. I will return there in May until October this year, YEAH!! My dream is to get to Vermont to one of your workshops. Who knows I may make it.

    Now you know why my comments have not been around but I am there reading.

    Thank you so much,


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