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Prune So You'll Reap

How shrubs and flowering plants look can make or break the outward appearance of a home or garden.

So CBS Home Improvement Contributor Bob Vila visits The Early Show to discuss the benefits of landscaping in late winter through early spring.

How pruning works:

Any plant will try to maintain a certain ratio of root to shoot. So pruning can lead to a vigorous regrowth of the newly cut area, as the plant tries to restore balance.

As this happens, the roots slow their growth until both systems (root and shoot) are again in a synchronized growth state. Although gardeners prune for size control and shape, pruning is usually intended to encourage this growth of vigorous new shoots.

Pruning redirects the plant's growth energy allowing gardeners to redirect how high, full or freely the plant grows.

Late winter is the best time to prune many trees because this is when they lie dormant and bleed less sap, with the exception of maple trees. Sap leakage isn't a real problem but it does gum up pruning tools and looks messy.

Dormant trees take less time to prune, as they have no thick foliage to work around, except for evergreens.

Wounds on dormant trees - wounds that result from pruning - heal more quickly than they would if a plant were pruned during the active growing season.

It's actually not very healthy to prune during the late spring and summer growing season because wounds heal much more slowly. The slow healing could set the plant up for rot, insect infestation (sap attracts bugs) and disease.

Suggested Plants to Prune
Spring- and summer-blooming bushes and shrubs
Oaks, pines and birch, and maple, elm, ash and
fruit trees
Evergreen trees

For proper pruning, Felco tools are the best type for the average Joe.

Basic Tool List
Tree pruners: Use on hard-to-reach branches.
Loppers: Give extended reach and leverage. Good for larger branches with up to a 2-inch diameter.
Manual and electric hedge shears: Use for all hedges except for larger woody branches.
Hand pruners: Good for stems up to 3/4 inch in diameter.

Pruning basics:
  • Any dead or diseased twigs or branches should be cut off as soon as they are noticed.
  • For further tidying up, cut out thin weak twigs, without leaves, flowers or fruit. These occur mainly in shaded parts of the plant, at the base and in the center.
  • Also, any crossing branches that will rub against and damage one another should be pruned to leave a good, strong framework for the structure of the plant. This is particularly important with trees and especially apple trees.
  • All cuts must be made sufficiently close to the parent stem so that the wound can heal properly.
  • Long stubs should be avoided. They can serve as a point of entry for insects and diseased organisms to move into the nearby living tissue.
  • Pruning cuts should be clean and smooth with the bark at the edge of the cut tightly attached to the wood.
  • Cuts on all limbs, an inch or more in diameter, should be done in three stages to prevent splitting.
  • All branches 3.5 or more inches in diameter should be lowered to the ground with ropes.
  • Pruning tools should be disinfected after use on each tree before moving on to the next.
  • Climbing spikes or spurs should not be used except to rescue a fallen worker or when completely removing a tree.
  • Wire, rope, nails and other foreign materials should be eliminated. Climbing vines should be taken from the tree.
  • The tree should be examined for defects that might require additional attention.
  • No more than one-third of the live foliage of a tree should be removed at a time without a good reason.
For more information from Bob Vila, visit his Web site.

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