Prune the Unwanted

Summer is giving it’s last gasps before the leaves begin to fall and I’m soaking ’em in! Does it sound wrong to soak in gasps? Or is that just a mixed metaphor…

Ahh, summer splendor...
Ahh, summer splendor…

Summer growth means a proliferation of tree and shrub branches and I was feeling overwhelmed with the job facing me every time I sat on the porch. Fortunately, I have friends whose motto seems to be “get ‘er done” AND they know how to prune so I bribed them with dinner and they came with tools in hand.

I grew up working on the yard with the family but am pretty rusty. My friends reminded me of some basics so I’ll pass them on to you.

Which branches should one cut? You own that tree so you can decide!

We have small apple and Asian pear trees along the back fence. By consistently cutting branches that grow perpendicular to the fence and training the remaining branches to hug the fence, we created a screen from neighbors without eating into too much of the small yard…fence (sorry, I couldn’t resist getting fence in there one more time).

For trees or bushes, we obviously cut any diseased or dead branches but also cut any that grew in such a way that rested against and/or touched another branch. Again, you can shape your bush so think about if you want it tall or spread out lengthwise and and you’ll know which branches should be edited out. We have a kind of Japanese Maple tree that’s about eight feet tall and particularly overwhelming. My friend explained how much to prune by telling me that these kinds should be thinned out enough so that a bird could fly through without the branches hitting its wings. Beautiful visual, huh?

So go ahead and cut branches that conflict with the image you see of that tree or bush. But understand, one shouldn’t just prune willy nilly!

Don't bother pruning at the green and red joint. Decide which woody branch in the middle is stronger and going the direction you want and cut just above the joint.
Don’t bother pruning at the green and red joint. Decide which woody branch in the middle is stronger and going the direction you want and cut just above the joint.

Look for joints or buds on the branch and cut slightly above that. If you cut at any old place on the branch, a flurry of directionally challenged branches, called suckers or water sprouts, will spring from that site next year and it’s not pretty.

Trees should have a few well selected limbs and branches that grow in the direction you want rather than THIS craziness!
Trees should have a few well selected limbs and branches that grow in the direction you want rather than THIS craziness!

To cut back a too high branch, instead of cutting in the middle of a limb, creating suckers, follow the branch back to a manageable height, find a joint or bud, and cut there.

I felt so cleansed after pruning day. And I’m happy we did it as a group. It kind of reminded me of the “barn raisings” they used to do where the community came together in enjoyment and support of each other. I look forward to the time when we’re all trained to be as harmonious with each other and our environment as the Asian pear tree in my backyard.

Enjoy the rest of your summer!

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