There's a branch on an ornamental pear tree in my front yard that should have been pruned when the tree was young and being shaped. The tree has turned out to have beautiful form, but that lowest branch slightly throws off the symmetry, and is a constant nag even when I'm enjoying the beautiful changing leaves.
Do you have one of those nagging garden distractions, a hangnail of horticulture that should be addressed but never is, perhaps because of laziness, or inability, or questions about when, how or if that you never bother to get answered?
And, of course, putting off the deed becomes a habit. What is there to finally push us to action? Will there always be one of those somethings (or many of them) in our lives? Or could this column be a communal call to action today?
My questions with regard to tackling my branch are several: If I cut the branch off now, does it open a way into the tree for disease? What is the best time of year to prune it? Do I have the proper tool, and is it sharp enough to make a clean cut? How would I sharpen the blades (my pruning tools have all been used on wood too large for their size). Am I strong enough for the job?
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If you have a nagger that you've been wondering about, take this as your call to action if you like, or, if you still have questions like I do, send them to me. Maybe we can all benefit from the answers we may find.
I looked at this as my own wake-up call and got some answers to my questions, some of which may be yours. Extension agent Bob Neier says that I can trim off the one branch now but should hold off any major pruning and cutting any large branches until February or March.
There are a couple of reasons for this. Because the weather is still warm, the tree could try to put on new growth, which would be killed when the weather turns cold. The other reason is that a wound at this time of year could dry out and crack over the winter, and water could get in. But waiting until February or March means that the tree would soon be leafing out, and the wound would heal over right away.
A friend of mine has a pretty mugo pine that she wants to shape up. Bob said that, again, it would be fine to do a little minor shaping in the fall and winter, but to save major work for later. And when you're pruning evergreens, be sure to stay within the green area. Don't cut back into the area that's not green, because the shrub or tree will then stay bald in that spot.
The cut should be made almost but not quite flush with the trunk, leaving the collar coming out a tiny bit. If the cut will be small, use hand pruners or loppers, Bob says. If it's bigger, you'll need a saw. And if the width of the branch is more than 1 1/2 inches, you'll want to make three cuts, from the underside and from up above, joining the cuts so that you don't tear the bark, he says.
The blade, of course, should be sharp. The pruning tool should cut right through without you having to gnaw away at the wood. But, I asked Bob, how do you sharpen a blade? "I don't see it anymore," Bob said. "Everything's disposable." I remember coming across this issue a few years ago, when someone asked me where he could get his reel lawnmower blades sharpened. It had been a while since I'd seen someone advertising that service. While you can find events at the Extension Center, garden centers or hardware stores occasionally offering blade sharpening, I don't know where you have it done any old time.
"Most of them buy a new one," Bob said of gardeners and whatever tool we're talking about. For some tools, such as Felco pruners, you can buy replacement blades. Bob suggested that maybe readers would have some ideas on sharpening. If you do, please share them. The next thing I'll put off is going out to buy a new pair of loppers.