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:

Recent Blog Posts

Feb 08
Why We Prune  

Jul 31
Pruning Sports on Dwarf Alberta Spruce  

May 01
Pruning Tools  

Apr 11
Pruning Basics  

Jan 05
Welcome to Pruning!  




Why We Prune
by Carol Chernega - posted 02/08/18

Are your rhododendrons engulfing your house?  Does your husband get out the chain saw and say, “No problem”?

Controlling the size of a plant is one of the most common reasons we start pruning.  This frequently happens when people have ignored that old adage:  right plant in the right place.  A rhododendron that’s going to get 10 feet tall and six feet wide shouldn’t be planted a foot from the foundation of your home.  (Put away the chain saw, please.)

I frequently hear: “But the tag said it would only get 8 feet tall.”  Yes, but that refers to the mature height.  The growth rate slows as the plant matures, but it doesn’t stop growing.

So, when you’re planting something new, do be sure to plant it in the right place.  It’ll save you long hours of pruning in future years.

What other reasons might you have for pruning?

You should always remove dead or broken branches.  They can cause further problems if they’re not removed.  Dead branches can fall and hurt people and damage property.  Broken branches that aren’t removed can rip the bark off the trunk and damage the tree.

You should also remove diseased branches in order to prevent the disease from progressing further into the plant.

Suckers, growing out of the ground from the roots of the plant, should also be removed (see picture).Suckers should be removed

We may also prune to shape a plant such as topiary.  These should be pruned annually so they don’t lose their shape.  Once a topiary has lost its shape, it’ll take an expert many hours to get it back, if it’s not too far gone.

We may prune to promote more flowers or fruit.  When you remove buds, it helps the plant put more of its energy into making the fruit or flowers bigger.

Finally, we might prune to rejuvenate an older plant.  This is especially helpful for shrubs like lilacs and forsythia.

Those are the major reasons for pruning.  Can you think of others?  If so, do post your suggestions in the comment section.  And stay tuned for more pruning advice.



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Pruning Sports on Dwarf Alberta Spruce
by Carol Chernega - posted 07/31/17

No, I don’t mean that you should play games while pruning! I’m referring to that odd thing that’s growing out of your Dwarf Alberta Spruce (Picea glauca Conica) (see picture) You may have noticed that it looks a bit different from the rest of the tree, and it may be growing out at an odd angle. In most cases, it’s a white spruce that’s starting to take over the tree. This is sometimes called a ‘sport’.

To understand this phenomenon, it’s necessary to go back to the origin of the Dwarf Alberta Spruce. It was actually a ‘sport’ itself! It started growing out of a white spruce, and was propagated for the special characteristics it had – smaller needles and very slow growth. This made it desirable for foundation plantings. But many times, the original white spruce will create a branch coming out of the dwarf tree. This is why this oddball branch looks different. It’s trying to revert to the original plant.

So that’s why this happened. Now, what happens if you leave it there? If it isn’t removed, it’ll take over the tree – in most cases, growing larger than the original plant.

The solution? You’ve got to get rid of it. Follow that ‘bad’ branch back as far as you can and cut it off. If you catch it early enough, it won’t leave a hole. It may start to come back again next year, but just keep cutting it off and eventually it may give up.

Examine the ‘after’picture. The white spruce is gone, leaving only the good stuff. Ahhh, now that was an easy fix.

Keep following this blog for more pruning tips.    

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Pruning Tools
by Carol Chernega - posted 05/01/17


Are you heading out to buy pruning tools? Here are my tips for choosing the right ones.

Most homeowners only need Three Basic Tools.

First, hand pruners. These can be the anvil type (one cutting blade hitting a flat surface), or bypass pruners (shown in picture) which work like a pair of scissors – two blades passing each other as they cut. Many people avoid the anvil type because they can crush the branch rather than cut it. But if the pruners are sharp and in good condition, they should work just fine. The factor that causes crushing is when people try to cut a larger branch than the pruners are designed to cut. This can crush the branch as you struggle to make the cut, and it also strains your wrist.

Follow this rule of thumb: Only use hand pruners to cut branches that are less than ½ inch in diameter. If you find yourself struggling to cut a branch, you should move up to a lopper.

A lopper is a long-handled tool which makes it easier to cut larger branches with less effort. It allows the tool to do the work. You can cut branches up to an inch and a half with most loppers. You can also find extending reach loppers (tool in middle in the photo.) These open up and extend the length of the lopper so you can reach higher.

For thicker branches, move up to a hand saw. I like a folding saw that has a good sharp cutting blade.

If you have a lot of tall trees and shrubs, you might want to consider a pole lopper, which will help you reach branches up to twelve feet off the ground. Anything higher than that, and you should consider hiring a professional.

Notice I haven’t mentioned hedge trimmers. I rarely use them except for pruning boxwood and cutting down ornamental grasses. This will be discussed further in another post.

Keep your tools clean – after each day’s work, clean the blade in soapy water, rinse, and dry thoroughly. Then apply a light coating of household oil to the blade to keep it from getting rusty.

If you’re good at sharpening, you can sharpen the blades after about twelve hours of work. If doing the sharpening yourself doesn’t interest you, take them to a professional sharpener.

That’s it. Those three tools will help you accomplish 80% of your pruning tasks.


NOTE: No endorsement is implied on any particular brand. It’s important to buy the best quality tools you can afford. With proper care, they should last for years.

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