- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Give Peter Deahl a hand pruner and a handsaw, and he starts to channel impressionist painters.

“We prune for safety and health and ‘Monetisms,’ if you will, the artists we have in our hearts,” he says.

Mr. Deahl, owner of the Pruning School and his own ornamental shrub company, both in Sterling, Va., says he loves to prune. He loves the ethereal sense he gets from being around plants and loves the peace, happiness and joy they give him.

“The satisfaction I get from taking a plant and finding out how it wants to be in its natural sense is phenomenal because I’m working that plant toward adulthood,” says Mr. Deahl, sales consultant for Arbor Artists, a tree care company based in Lovettsville, Va.

“Good pruning helps trees stay healthy and actually can make them become healthier,” the Sterling resident says.

Pruning controls the size of trees, shrubs, bushes and perennials and opens up their branches to improve air circulation and prevent buildup of fungus and bacteria, says Trevor Clagett, nursery coordinator of Johnson’s Flower & Garden Centers in Northwest. Pruning helps promote growth, he says.

“If you don’t prune your plants, they get out of control. They lose shape, and they lose structure,” Mr. Clagett says.

Pruning gets rid of dead, diseased, damaged and low-lying tree branches, making the areas underneath the tree safer, Mr. Deahl says.

Pruning stimulates new growth, says Paige Thacker, extension agent in horticulture for the Virginia Cooperative Extension, Prince William County Unit.

“If you prune, the plant still has the same energy and has to send the energy somewhere,” Mrs. Thacker says. “It will send the energy to latent and dormant buds and make them branch or sprout.”

The best time for pruning depends on the type of plant, says Charlie Nardozzi, horticulturalist for the National Gardening Association, a nonprofit provider of plant-based education based in South Burlington, Vt.

For most fruit and deciduous trees, that time is late winter or early spring when problem branches are most visible in the canopy, Mr. Nardozzi says.

Spring-blooming shrubs, such as azaleas and rhododendrons, and shrubs that bloom in the summer are best pruned right after they flower, Mr. Clagett says.

“After they finish flowering, they are going to produce sugars to form buds for next year. You don’t want to wait and end up cutting off those buds,” he says.

Evergreen shrubs can be pruned in the spring to shape them, open them up and improve air flow, and again in the fall for more shaping, Mr. Clagett says. Boxwoods are best pruned in the winter when they are dormant, he says.

Woody perennials, like lavender and rosemary, are plants that should be pruned in the spring to allow dead foliage from the last growing season to protect the plant from moisture and extremes of temperature, says Scott Kenney, perennial and aquatic plant manager for Blue Mount Nursery in Ashburn, Va.

Pruning is a way to delay flowering of the woody perennials and control plant size, Mr. Kenney says.

Pruning can be done at any time of the year if the plant is “diseased, damaged or deranged” — the 3 D’s — with overlapping branches that can grow into each other, Mrs. Thacker says.

After a storm, snapped and split branches should be pruned, says Justin Cove, landscaper and host of HGTV’s “Ground Breakers” in Atlanta, a home improvement show scheduled to be aired in June.

“You can look at a tree and tell when it needs to be pruned. If it looks crowded, it’s a good idea to thin it out,” Mr. Cove says.

Mr. Kenney likes his pruning work to look like he did not prune, he says. He selects taller or broken branches in shrubs and bushes, avoiding lopping off the top, which would encourage bushy growth and weaken branches.

“Generally, you’re going to be pruning to the branch collar, where the branch comes off the main trunk or another branch,” he says.

For trees, a pruning cut is made sharp and clean at an angle outside the branch collar — where cells produce more quickly and are compacted to promote healing — to prevent water from collecting and causing rot, Mrs. Thacker says. If the cut is too close to the trunk and into the branch collar, the plant will not be able to seal off the wound with new tissue, she says.

The pruning cut on most plants should be at a 45-degree angle, typically above a bud or leaf, Mr. Clagett says.

“The direction [the cut] faces is where the growth will go. If it is flat, the plant won’t know which way to grow,” he says.

Bypass pruners, a type of handheld tool that cuts like scissors, are used for smaller pruning jobs, Mr. Nardozzi says. Pole pruners, a type of long-handled pruner, are used to cut branches high up in trees, he says. Handsaws are used for branches less than one inch in diameter and chainsaws for larger branches, he says.

Bypass pruners are preferable to anvil pruners, which make a cut by bringing the blades directly together, Mr. Kenney says. Anvil pruners can damage the plant by pinching it between the blades, he says.

Pruning incorrectly or at the wrong time of year can cause weak points in the plant, Mr. Kenney says.

“There’s a lot of do’s and don’ts. It’s better not to prune than to do it incorrectly,” Mr. Cave says. “If you put the proper plant in the right location, the idea is you won’t have to prune it much.”

Pruning too late in the season does not give new growth enough time to harden off for the winter, making the plant more susceptible to damage from the cold, Mrs. Thacker says.

Pruning in the summer can stress the plant, cause the leaves to burn from the sun’s heat and prevent the plant from sealing up, allowing insects and disease to enter through the cut, Mr. Clagett says.

Poor pruning can shorten a plant’s life by allowing decay into the plant, as can cutting into the branch collar, Mr. Deahl says.

“We have to keep the dead wood out of them. By keeping the dead wood out, the tree can close off the spot and keep the decay out,” he says.

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