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!  




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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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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Welcome to Pruning!
by Carol Chernega - posted 01/05/16

One day I was driving down the road with my husband, when suddenly I screamed.

“What’s wrong?” John asked, thinking he had to slam on the brakes.  “Did you see that tree?” I asked.  “It was so horribly pruned.”  John sighed.  “Only you would scream over a badly pruned tree.” 

And it’s true.  I’m passionate about pruning.  In fact, it’s my favorite gardening task.  People sometimes laugh when I say that.  They find pruning difficult, puzzling and scary.  They wonder:   What if I do the wrong thing? What if I prune at the wrong time?  What if I kill the tree?

Since I love pruning so much, I decided to specialize in it when I started my garden maintenance business near Pittsburgh, PA.  For over ten years I’ve also been teaching pruning workshops and advising homeowners on the right way to prune shrubs.  I’ve developed a lot of basic pruning tips that I’m going to share with you in this blog.

So think of me as your Personal Pruning Coach.  I’m going to show you how to choose your teammates (otherwise known as your tools), teach you the Rules of the Game, (and why WHEN you prune isn’t as important as HOW you prune) and explain why it’s important to Identify Your Opponent.  I’ll help you win the pruning game.

And remember:  Don't Panic!

Feel free to post your questions in the comment area.  Together we can make pruning a win-win gardening task. 

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