Prepare to prune… or not

Fri. Feb. 24, 2017

Click below to listen to my Garden Bite radio show:  Prepare to prune… or not

63 degrees in Northfield, MN on February 17th!  I even started up my motorcycle and drove around the block a few times…

But, it’s still late winter heading into the Spring home stretch.  Gardeners!  Prepare your pruners!  Or not!  With the unseasonably warm temperatures trees and shrubs are budding out.  My lilacs look nearly ready to burst.  There are reports of temperatures across the country crushing records set in the 19th century and spring arriving 3 weeks early.  While there may be some winter left, it’s a bit iffy according to global meteorologist Paul Douglas.

Cold temperatures provide the best time to prune because the plants are dormant, their sap flowing less freely and the insects are not a bother.  With this warm up, that changes things.  Never prune spring flowering shrubs now or you’ll lose any flowers.  What you CAN prune are dead or diseased branches.



This is also a good time to really look over your plants for any pests.

To prepare your tools you’ll need steel wool, a sharpening stone or file and some machine oil.  Use the steel wool to clean up rust spots and the stone or file to smooth out any dings, dents or chips.  Use the machine oil on pivot points.

The best thing you can do is sharpen your pruners!  Good for you and good for the plant…

Taking your pruners apart is a great way to sharpen your tools, however, not everyone wants to do that.  So here’s a way to sharpen without taking them apart.

  • Use steel wool to remove any rust, resin, sap
  • For the anvil pruner, wrap a rag around the cutting blade, using a little oil use a file to smooth out any rough edges on the flat anvil blade.
  • For the cutting blade, hold the pruners away from your body, parallel to the ground, move the file across the blade in one direction away from your body and repeat.
  • Make an occasional pass on the back side to remove any tags
  • Use the same process for the bypass pruners
  • Add a little machine oil to the pivot point of your pruners

If your pruners are not cutting smoothly you’ll get splintered, crushed or torn cuts which allow an acces point for insects and disease.

When pruning shrubs, come out about 1/4 of an inch from the stem and cut at the same angle as the branch your cutting.  For larger branches come out about 1/2 inch.  Allow the plant to “heal” itself.  There’s no need for wound dressing.

pruning diagram

Here’s an article from the Minnesota DNR about Winter Pruning

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