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 comments § permalink

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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Prune in June? Well, Sometimes. Wondering What, When and How to Prune? The Basics of Pruning: A Weekend Workshop and a Giveaway…

April 28th, 2010 § 28 comments § permalink

Horizontal juniper, (photo © 2010 Michaela at TGE), pruned to highlight stonework and clay pot focal point…

Japanese maple, (photo © Michaela at TGE), pruned to arch over the Secret Garden doorway…

Microbiota decussata, (Siberian cypress), (photo © Michaela at TGE), pruned to highlight the edge of a walkway…

Pruning: Why, when, how and what? Oh the frustration and confusion on the gardener’s face when given their first red handled Felco pruners. And you know what? I understand completely. I wasn’t born with scissor hands – though I sometimes feel like it. I love to prune, and I love teaching gardeners about pruning. This weekend, I will be presenting a free seminar on ornamental pruning at Walker Farm – please come on by if you are in southern Vermont this weekend, (call 802-254-2051 or visit walkerfarm.com for more information). For me, what began as a loathsome task many years ago, has become one of my greatest passions. Pruning is indeed an art, but it is also a science. To train a tree or shrub artfully is to create living sculpture, and to correctly prune away damage is to prevent disease. Think of the great bonsai of Japan, and the masterful topiary in Europe. Oh the beauty and skill – oh the intimidation!

Oh yes, I understand. Not every gardener wishes to create a maze of boxwood hedges, (mmm, but wouldn’t it be fun?). The truth is, all master pruners begin their craft with a simple pair of bypass pruners or other secateurs, and an introduction to the effects of various kinds of cuts on plant growth. In fact the most basic type of pruning, pinching, requires only a pair of fingernails! Curious to learn more about pruning? Travel back a bit on this site to a post I wrote last year on pruning. There you will find an introduction to the hows and whys of this craft.

A few simple tools and supplies are needed to get you started: a good pair of bypass pruners, (I use Felco 8 or Felco 6 for smaller hands, but there are higher end pruners, and also less expensive types); a quality Grecian, (or Felco Folding Saw), saw; a Bow Saw for tackling large limbs; and a pair of basic, manually operated hedge shears will come in handy for tackling hedges or large clumps of ornamental grass…

My pruning tools after a day of work, (photo © 2010 Michaela at TGE) ready for cleaning, sharpening and oiling…

Although major structural pruning usually takes place during the dormant season, (here in Vermont, this tends to be in February and very early March), there’s always a need for the occasional snip, trim or cut in the garden. Damaged branches should always be removed as soon as noticed, and spent flower blossoms, especially on roses, are best removed when they fade. I will be writing more about pruning, and caring for your tools of the trade. But for now, I encourage you to begin with the introductory article I posted last year. And of course, please enter this week’s giveaway contest…

Thinning horizontal juniper, (photo © 2010 Michaela at TGE)…

Felco Classic Pruner (available at Amazon Home/Garden)

The right tools are key to success in every garden task, and for pruning jobs, one of my favorite tools is the classic Felco 6 or 8 bypass pruner. And at the end of this month, one lucky reader will receive a complimentary pair of Felco 6 or 8 pruners, (depending upon hand size), from The Gardener’s Eden! In honor of our first anniversary, The Gardener’s Eden is giving away one last, special gift. In order to enter, simply answer the question below in the comment section of this article. Be sure to post your answer prior to 11:59 am Eastern Daylight Time cut-off. Only one entry per reader, per give-away please. The winner will be chosen at random from all of the correct entries received, and will be notified by email. Gift recipients will also be announced both here on the blog and on our Facebook Page, and all gifts will ship at the end of the month. So now…

The question is: No quiz today! Simply state whether you wear a small, medium or large size glove, (to help determine Felco pruner size). In order to enter the contest, please post your answer in comments here on the blog, (not on the Facebook page). All email addresses will remain unpublished and kept in complete confidence. Your email will only be used to notify you if you have won. Good Luck!

* In order to provide each reader with an equal chance to win, your comment/ entry will not appear until 4/29*

Entry must be posted by 11:59, Eastern Time, 4/28/10

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Article and photographs are copyright 2010, Michaela at TGE. All content on this site, (with noted exceptions), is the property of The Gardener’s Eden and may not be used or reproduced without prior written consent. Inspired by something you see here? Great! Please give credit where credit is due. It’s a small world and link-love makes for fond friendships. Stealing makes for bad dreams…

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Selecting Quality Gardening Tools to Last a Lifetime: Part One…

March 29th, 2010 § 1 comment § permalink

Looks like it’s finally that time of the year: Gardening season! Time to pull out the tools and get to work. Most of my gardening equipment is in pretty good shape, but there are a few repairs and replacements I need to make this year. I can still remember shopping for gardening tools with my father when I was a kid. We bought our tools at the not-so-local hardware store, (this was the 80’s, and where I grew up, it was an hour and a half drive, round trip, to the nearest big town). There was considerable grumbling involved. My dad has always been frustrated with the declining quality of tools, and he still complains about the mass-procuced, cheap new “bargains” pushed alongside the fairly-priced , but more expensive, “good-value” tools. A country boy to the core, my father grew up working on farms and in orchards, and he’s always favored hand forged tools with good blades, and rakes, forks and shovels with time-worn wooden handles. He’s never been fooled by flimsy spot-welds and cheap plastic handles. But during the recession years, in an effort to pinch pennies, he bought a few of those tools and he quickly regretted it. When you buy cheap tools, I fast learned, they tend to break, and you soon need to buy replacements. No money saved there.

These days I turn my compost pile with an old farm fork I inherited from my father, and I have a few of his other handmade tools in my garden room. My folks live in a condo now, and although they still have a small vegetable garden and modest flower beds, their bigger garden tools have been passed on to the next generation. When I started shopping for my own hand tools, I knew that it would make sense in the long-run to buy the best quality I could afford, and take good care of my investment. As any New Englander will tell you… frugal and cheap are not the same thing! I started with the basics: Felco bypass-style pruners, and both folding and bow saws for pruning; a digging spade and fork for vegetable and perennial gardening; several good quality rakes in three styles and a basic shovel; a classic New England Cape Cod weeder, and of course the Gardener’s Supply Company garden cart and a good wheelbarrow…

Felco F-6 Classic Pruner For Smaller Hands

Felco Classic Pruner with Comfortable Ergonomic Design #F-8

Every year, I help gardeners learn how to prune their trees and shrubs. There is an article based on my pruning seminar notes you can read here, explaining the kinds of cuts you will make and the types of tools you will need, (there is another on June lilac pruning here). Bypass pruners are the most important tool in my shed. In fact, I usually have a pair in my car and/or pocketbook. Some gardeners use anvil pruners. I dislike them because they pinch-cut instead of clean-cut. So, I recommend the bypass style. There are more expensive and less expensive pruners, and I have a few other brands, but Felco is still my favorite. For smaller hands, start with the Felco #6, (top link above). For longer or wider hands, go with the #8, (lower link above). For larger trees and shrubs, you will also need a folding, (or Grecian), saw and a bow saw for big limbs…

Felco Classic Folding Saw with Pull-Stroke Action #F-600

Spear & Jackson R681 County 24 Inch Bow Saw

Many of the tools pictured here may be found in your local hardware store, but I have also linked them to two of my favorite online tool resources: Amazon.com Home and Garden and Gardener’s Supply Company. I buy many of my working tools from Gardener’s Supply Company online. This employee-owned store is located here in my home state of  Vermont, (to the north, in Burlington), and they ship tools all over the country via orders placed on their website. They carry many of the high-quality brands I know and trust, as well as some excellent products of their own. In fact, their sturdy garden cart has been such a fixture in my life that when I began building my place 8 years ago, a friend told me that she knew she found the right clearing when she saw my little wood wagon in the drive! Oh how I love that cart. I have had it for years and I constantly use it to move heavy perennial divisions, (like big clumps of ornamental grass); to tote bulky items like dog food from the car;  and to haul firewood to the back terrace. The removable back makes dumping debris easy and the entire cart tilts back for easy storage. I have never seen a better utility-wagon design. And although I have a variety of poly-bed wheelbarrows for taking with me on jobs, I prefer the two-wheel-barrow design linked below for stability when carting heavy loads of mulch and compost. And good-grief, I so prefer tires that can be filled with a bicycle pump. The other kind – what a pain!

These are the best versions of tools you will need to create and maintain your garden. I won’t lie to you – I have a few cheap shovels, rakes and wheelbarrows that I take with me to work, (where they might get lost or crushed by a dump-truck). But for pruning and work around home – I don’t mess around. I have invested in good tools, and I take good care of them. I will be reviewing more gardening essentials in April and May, and sharing some tool-maintenance tips from the old-time farmers and orchard keepers in my life. I learned a thing or two in college, yes it is true, but when it comes to everyday common-sense, it sure is hard to beat the wisdom of a farmer! Let me know if you have any time-worn favorites of your own… or new fangled discoveries I can share with my dad. I do love a good garden gadget!

DeWit Cape Cod Weeder, Right-Handed

(may be out of stock, if so, try the Amazon link below)

DeWit Dutch Cape Cod Weeder – Right Hand

DeWit Perennial Planter
(for digging and planting on your knees)

Spear & Jackson Stainless Steel Digging Spade

Spear & Jackson Stainless Steel Digging Fork (essential for dividing plants and loosening soil)

Large Gardener’s Supply Cart, Red (also available in natural color)

Poly-Tough Cart

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Article and top photo © Michaela at The Gardener’s Eden. All rights reserved.

Images in this post appear courtesy of Amazon.com and Gardener’s Supply Company.

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