Maintenance
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Tips for Trimming and Pruning

Serenity via shears & saws

By Brenda Timbers
Published: February 1, 2009
prunewillow1
Photo by Brenda Timbers

I’ve never wanted to tame the wild garden that surrounds my cabin paradise, but I do recognize that pruning and trimming is essential to maintaining the health of many plants.

It is sad to see clumps of perennials choked with dead foliage. Overgrown shrubs and trees that restrict air flow let mildew develop, and their broken branches from wind or ice storms need to be cleared away. Allowing the forest to close in too tightly increases the risk of a wildfire spreading to your cabin.

Whatever your pruning goal is, you’ll need the right information and the right equipment to shape and manage your landscape.

Sharp, Clean & Ready

Well-maintained tools make pruning easier and faster. If you are starting from scratch, spend the money to buy quality equipment. If you already have a garden shed full of equipment, sort through it. Sharpen your loppers, buy a new blade for your pole pruner and make sure that all your tools are cleaned and disinfected.

Pruning tools can spread disease organisms from one tree to another or from one part of a tree to another part of the same tree if not properly disinfected. A commonly recommended disinfectant for pruning tools is Lysol. Less corrosive than a bleach solution, both to the tools and your clothes, it is very effective. Spray or dip the tools and wipe off excess disinfectant before each cut.

DIY or Not?

Not all jobs are meant for DIY. Bear in mind, if a power line runs through or near your tree, you may be just one snip or ladder placement away from a hospital visit or worse. If you’re not an arborist or tree feller, call in a professional to help with the big stuff. I saw the neighbor’s woodshed roof go flying when a big douglas fir fell the wrong way during his DIY attempt.

Timing Is Everything

Choosing the right time to prune is important. Pruning in the cold of late winter or early spring – the dormant season – reduces damage as there is little activity taking place in the plant, and tree-harming insects are not active to prey upon a tree made vulnerable by pruning.

Plants with early spring flowers are generally pruned just after blooming to allow a show of flowers in the following years. If your spring flowering shrub has become madly overgrown, experts recommend pruning it in late winter or early spring. You’ll lose most of the bloom for a year or two, but the plant will be better for it. Unsightly deadwood can be pruned anytime.

Bearing Fruit

Pruning and shaping fruit trees and fruit bearing vines is necessary for your favorite plants, but you’ll need to do some research into different techniques to get the best results. To find what works for you and your garden, you may have to do some digging (pun intended). Local garden stores are a wonderful resource. U.S. Forest Service Web sites provide detailed pruning tips. University horticultural departments are gold mines of online information. Libraries and bookstores abound with great books that will lead you down the garden path, clippers in hand.

Pruning and trimming is necessary even in the informal cabin landscape. It doesn’t need to be intimidating. While the winter winds are still blowing, do your homework. Arm yourself with some good sharp tools before spring warms the air and the plants wake up. What better way to say goodbye to winter than getting out there and bringing serenity into the chaos of your cabin garden?

Brenda Timbers, cabin owner and freelance writer, has a green thumb and a rainforest jungle closing in on her Pacific West Coast retreat. Pruning and trimming are subjects close to her heart.  

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