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COLUMN: As the spring season approaches, make sure to prune correctly

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By Bryce Roberts

As spring approaches, many homeowners begin to think about their yard’s landscape. The winter months can be damaging to trees and shrubs. To ensure healthy spring plants, homeowners may want to prune the trees and shrubs around their home. But do not just prune for the sake of pruning, make sure you have a valid reason for pruning before you begin.
Pruning during the late winter months allows for the removal of damage caused by winter winds and precipitation. The wounds caused by pruning heal most quickly this time of year just as new growth is emerging on the plant.
Pruning also allows removal of diseased, crowded or hazardous branches. When pruning trees, the size of the tree does not need to be reduced too much in one season. Limit the pruning amount to one-fourth of the tree’s volume. Start by thinning out branches by cutting them off close to the tree’s trunk or a large limb.
Leave the base of the branch, known as the collar, intact. Cutting the collar will prevent the plant from growing over the wound caused from pruning.  Pruning in this manner allows for a healthy tree that is more open to sunlight and air movement.  If the branch is cut back only part way, there will likely be a crowded regrowth of new branches where the cut was made.  Do not seal or paint the wounds resulting from pruning because this will only delay the tree’s healing process.  
With spring-flowering shrubs, rejuvenation pruning may be needed, and the time to prune is fast approaching. The best time to prune these plants is right after they have flowered.  If the shrub is pruned before it blooms, the buds have been removed before their flowers were enjoyed.  When pruning is done after blooming, the flowers will have been enjoyed, and the plant can recover, grow and produce more buds for flowers next spring.   
Rejuvenation pruning removes one-third of the shrub’s oldest growth. This pruning entails selecting the thickest, darkest and unhealthiest stems or branches and cutting them back.  Stems should be cut back to soil level and branches to the point of intersection with the shrub’s main trunk.  This ensures that only the youngest, most productive wood (that which produces the most/best flowers) remains a part of the shrub. Shrubs that will bloom during the summer months can also be pruned during the early spring.
Pruning is not limited to a certain time of year.  Homeowners can prune at any time if they notice branches and limbs that are damaged either from weather, disease or insects.  Pruning is invigorating for the plants in a home landscape so one should not necessarily think of pruning as a means of size control.  If you have a plant that has grown out-of-bounds, pruning may not be the answer — you may need to consider replacing the plant with one that will reach a smaller size at maturity.
The Kentucky Cooperative Extension Service’s online data base, http://www.GardenData.org, can answer many of your pruning and other gardening and landscape questions.  
I know that it is a little ways off, but we will be holding a pruning demonstration on March 23.  If you are interested in attending, feel free to call our office to register and we’ll provide you more information as time gets nearer.    
Feel free to contact me at your Spencer County Cooperative Extension Service at 477-2217 or you can email me at broberts@uky.edu.  You can visit the Spencer County Extension Services’ website at www.spencerextension.com.
Educational programs of the Kentucky Cooperative Extension Service serve all people regardless of race, color, age, sex, religion, disability, or national origin.