Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Doing The Limbo

People should enjoy your garden, not be assaulted by it.

Has this ever happened to you?

You are happily walking or jogging along, fiddling with your iPod, considering animal shapes in cloud formations or surreptitiously checking out someone’s garden through the fence and all of a sudden…SMACK…a low hanging tree branch gives you a slap in the face!

Everyone I talk to about pruning say they don’t prune because they are afraid of doing something wrong. Or in the case of trees, they think given enough time the too low limb will eventually grow upward as the tree grows taller. This is not the case in most trees. Trees put new growth and height from the top, so it keeps producing new branches from the tree tops and those low branches will stay there and get bigger and longer. Those low branches need to be pruned off, or ‘limbed up’ as we say, and while it’s not rocket science there are some things to keep in mind when pruning tree limbs.

First are the pruning tools. The 3 I use most are pictured here. From the left…Felco bypass pruners (secateurs), loppers, and finally a garden saw.

Pruners are either bypass or anvil type. I prefer bypass, which means the blade actually cuts the limb cleanly as it passes. You will need to keep them sharpened for best cuts and less bodily strain to you. Anvil types just crush the limb till it breaks. Anvil styles are more stressful on the hands and wrist and don’t make a clean cut whereby allowing bugs or disease to enter the rough cut. Most hand pruners are for stems less than 1” ( 2.5 cm) in diameter. The packaging will indicate diameter limits when you buy them.

Loppers are for stems 1” diameter or larger, needing more leverage. Or if you are like me for stems as big as you can muscle through before the vein on your forehead bulges like a rope…then you know it’s time to give it up and stop being lazy, head to the garage and get the saw.

Obviously the saw is for the big ‘uns. And this ain’t no ordinary saw that might be in the wood shop or miter box. Nope, this is your very own special gardener’s saw that has thick, wider spaced, bucked teeth that look like they are badly in need of orthodontics. They cut through a limb like butter. Or should…if it doesn’t, treat yourself to a new one.

When it comes to buying tools, you get what you pay for. And if you skimp on quality in search of price chances are you’ll pay for it in aches and pains later. I went through too many cheaper pruners before I succumbed to buying a Felco.  Not only do they have different sizes for your small or large hands, but they have a left handed style too. They sell parts, so you can FIX it rather than try to figure out how to make it into yard art after it breaks. By now I could probably have paid for 3 pair of Felco pruners for all those others that froze up or had parts that broke which I threw away because rusty tool yard art isn’t my thing. And only Sears Craftsman loppers will do, because they still have a free replacement policy for ANY Craftsman tool that breaks, guaranteed, no receipt needed, no statute of limitations, no sniveling, no sour looks. Lastly a folding saw like mine is easy to store and safely carry around in your back pocket, but be sure to get one that has a locking mechanism so the blade locks in open position so it can’t accidentally fold back onto your fingers while you’re sawing that branch. Believe me, it happens.

Now where to cut. Yes there is a sweet spot.

But this isn’t it.

Cutting only half the branch (hard to see but there are 3 in this pix) not only looks like a job undone, it leaves that remainder vulnerable to freezing, die back, breaking and bug or disease damage that can cause further problems. Plus you avoid the whole “you could poke somebody’s eye out with that thing” liability.

When we’re talking about tree branches, the sweet spot is a ring at the base of the branch where it comes out of the main trunk. The bark will look like a collar. You want to cut up to that collar (where my finger is) but not into it. Nor do you want to leave a long peg.

Remember the saying “leave a stub but not enough to hang a hat on”. Resist the temptation to cut it flush with the trunk thinking it will look better. That’s my usual problem, but I keep reminding myself it’s not about me (drat again), it’s about a healthy cut and speedy healing for the tree. There are cells in that collar that will grow and cover the edges of the cut, stopping bugs and disease from entering under the bark and causing damage to the tree.

And as importantly, don’t try to cut the whole branch off with this one cut. The weight of the 6 foot limb with leaves attached will pull down and tear off the bark you are trying to save. Cut most of the branch off first in shorter sections, working your way toward the trunk. When you are about a foot (30 cm) or so less from the trunk, then make your cut close to the collar. If you make a small cut under the branch first, then move to make the full cut from the top, you’ll again end the possibility of tearing into good bark should the limb begin to fall before you’re done.

The finished natural growth repair will look like a doughnut.

Here’s a healthy doughnut...no doubt the only doughnut that can be called healthy. Make your cut as smooth as possible, with sharp pruners, loppers or a saw. Never use a ‘tree salve’ of any kind to paint over pruning cuts. They are not helpful, necessary or needed. They are old school and can actually cause damage. Trees were designed to heal themselves.

Lastly is timing. Spring pruning stimulates growth so your perfectly pruned specimen will fill out, heal quicker and cover your cuts sooner. Many deciduous trees can be pruned when they are either in full leaf (summer) or dormant (late winter, no leaves). Fall is risky for this kind of pruning so wait, unless people are sustaining too much injury from your blasted low branches. That requires emergency efforts. Depending on which side of the equator you live and what you are pruning, timing will be different so best to consult with your local nursery. Don’t leave it up to your lawn trimming service if you use one. It’s a bit more complicated than the skills needed to cut grass and blow the debris all over your freshly washed car.

Most plants are very forgiving, but if you’re working on a prima donna and it rewards your efforts with death, just look at it as another opportunity to go nursery shopping! Remember, mangled lemons make lemonade.

This is your goal. The walkways that border your garden should be unobstructed to passersby.

No doubt they’ll be so enthralled with the splendor of your garden that they would walk right into a low hanging branch…uh…or gate left open.

In Bloom In My Garden Today: Gladiolus callianthus Abyssinian Glad, Cyclamen hederifolium, Gaura, blue fall crocus speciosus, Fushia, Alyssum, Nepeta, Russian sage, rose, Eupatorium ‘Chocolate (Joe Pye Weed), Schizostylus, Mullen chaixii ‘Album’, Veronica, Salvia, hardy geranium ‘Mavis Simpson’, Lavender, kirengeshoma palmate, Daphne caucasica ‘Eternal Fragrance’ and ‘Summer Ice’

Author’s photos


Shari B. (FitFeat) said...

I will definitely pass this info on to Cory since he's the tree trimmer in our household. GREAT info on WHERE to prune, especially how it forms into a donut.

And good point on people getting whacked by low hanging branches. We do have trees that hang over a sidewalk (our house in on a corner, so our side/back yard are along the sidewalk.) We aim to be conscious of it but I'll have to go out today and take a look!


Joan said...

Hi Shari,
Glad this was helpful. Thanks for stopping by. Cheers!

Cindy said...

I have read your post TWICE with JJ in my lap (because the second I log on he climbs up) and can't comment.


my husband is the pruner in my world. we never agree on it at all, but so far he's never killed anything, just given really bad hair cuts.

I just don't look. hehehehe

very informative, and if I was allowed to prune things (besides my roses which I am very "BACK OFF MISTER" I would be needing tips )


http://foodconnectons.blogspot.com said...

What a great post! Love your recomendation for the Felco pruners, they're the best. I love all your advice. Maybe next time do bullets cause it makes going back and finding points I need to review easier. I'm so glad we connected, your blog is exactly what I need for my garden.

Joan said...

Hi Cindy, I hope the comment problem isn't a computer glitch my blog is suffering from.

It is no great loss if you don't get to prune although I actually kind of like it...it brings out the artistic side in me as I shape the tree how I want it to look. Japanese gardens excel at art forms in their pruning. I have a maple that reflects my pruning mistakes over the years...poor thing, but it keeps looking lovely if you don't look too closely. :)

Joan said...

Hi Food Connections!
Welcome and thanks for visiting!
Yes Felco's are the best...one of those things that when you finally break down and buy you think..."now why didn't I do this a long time ago?"

Thanks for the bulleting advice...great idea. I'm glad to be connected too...can't wait to try that cauliflower soup of yours! Cheers!

Cindy said...

Hey Joan!
no, the total "glitches' are JJ...and JJ alone.


HEY, you need shoot me an email!

I am working on a scarf and a BEE for you!


VP said...

Excellent advice Joan. Luckily I won a pair of Felcos so didn't need to succumb. It was a close call though ;)

Thanks for your visit over at mine :)

Joan said...

Cindy you are a sweetheart! You made my day...thanks ever so much!

Joan said...

Hi VP! Welcome and thank you so much for visiting and leaving a comment. How lucky to WIN a pair of Felcos!

I love your blog and especially the "How Advertising Works in Chippingham" posts! You have a sharp eye to spot those. Also love the Manor garden tours. Keep up the great work!