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

Apr 09
Making the Right Cut  

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!  




Making the Right Cut
by Carol Chernega - posted 04/09/18

The most important thing to remember about pruning is this:  Always cut back to a bud or branching point. If you do that, you can’t go wrong.

When you cut back to a bud or branching point, you’ll never leave a stub – see the picture for the wrong thing to do.

A stub like this will rarely promote new growth – it’ll just die back to the branching point – and dead wood is an entry point for insects and disease to enter the plant.  We don’t want that! 

When possible, make your cut straight up and down so that water runs right off it, rather than at an angle, which would allow water to sit on top of the exposed cut.

If you’re cutting back to a bud, you can direct the future growth of that branch by choosing the correct bud.  For example, if you cut right above a bud on the right side of the branch – it’ll grow off to the right.  So, you can make sure that the branch doesn’t start growing inward towards the middle of the shrub or tree.

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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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