Carol Chernega has been a writer, lecturer, and professional gardener for over 20 years. Her business, One Garden at a Time, specializes in hand pruning. She works mostly in the Eastern suburbs of Pittsburgh, PA See her in action at:

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Pruning Basics
by Carol Chernega - posted 04/11/17

Pruning seems to have a mystique that doesn’t apply other garden chores. People tell me they’re confused by pruning books that give long complicated instructions on how to prune and elaborate charts on when to prune. But pruning isn’t really that mysterious once you learn a few basic tips and techniques.

Here are the basics that you need to know.

Before making any cuts, identify the shrub. What shape does it naturally want to grow? Here’s one important thing to remember - prune it so that it continues that natural growth habit. If it’s a weeping shrub, for example, you want to cut off any branches growing straight up, and leave only the ones that are weeping.

Now you’re ready for your first cut. Prune out all dead branches, cutting back to live wood if possible. If the whole branch is dead, then cut it back to the main trunk. Sometimes this will leave a big hole in the shrub – many times people worry that the hole will look terrible. But the dead branches look worse, so take a deep breath and remove those dead branches. See picture.

Next, cut out any diseased branches, and those infested with insects. Cut back past the infected or infested areas until you come to clean wood.

Remove broken branches. These are not only unsightly, but can cause further problems if they are not removed.  Wind or heavy snow and ice can add weight to the branch, causing it to rip the bark off the main trunk, causing further damage to the tree or shrub.

Next, remove suckers – narrow branches coming straight up out of the base of the shrub. These sap the strength of the rest of the tree.

Stand back and take a look – in most cases this is all you have to do. In fact, if you just go around your garden once or twice a year and do the above steps, you won’t have to do much more pruning, and you’ll make a big improvement in your garden.

Follow these tips and you’ll have beautiful, natural looking shrubs.



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