Strategies for proper pruning

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As the leaves fall off the trees and greenery thins out for the season, exposing branches and undergrowth along the way, homeowners may be tempted to prune their trees and shrubs. But while autumn pruning may seem like a good idea, many gardening experts say it is often best for homeowners to wait until winter or early spring before pruning.

Although pruning does thin out branches and tame spent blooms, which can be eyesores, pruning also stimulates new growth. Pruning in the autumn, when plants are naturally preparing to go dormant, can weaken the plants considerably. This can compromise their chances of surviving into the next growing season.

Fall temperatures also can be deceiving. While it may be warm during the day when the sun is shining, temperatures can quickly drop overnight. Pruning during the warmth of day, when the sap has risen in the plants, may deplete energy from the plant. When the mercury drops at night, the plant can suffer.

If you must spend time in the yard in the fall, tend to the leaves and debris that have already fallen to the ground rather than focusing energy on fall pruning. If you have been diligent during the spring and summer, your shrubs and other plants likely won’t need pruning at this time of year.

Wait until winter before taking out the shears. At this point, the woody parts of many plants are dormant and will not be harmed or primed to grow by the pruning. Chances are you won’t prune too much as well, as chilly temperatures will keep you from spending too much time outdoors.

When it’s time to prune, consider these other pointers.

• Keep tools clean and in good working order. You risk injury if your tools are dull and in poor shape overall. Spend time sharpening pruners and keep manual tools oiled and clean. Debris can lodge itself in clippers, making it more difficult to open and shut them. Wash and dry tools after use, especially when dealing with diseased plants. Otherwise you risk spreading disease to healthy plants.

• Cut back stems completely. It’s usually a good idea to prune branches back to the main stem. Leaving a portion sticking out can catch on people or animals and produce a gathering spot for bacteria and insects. Take out thinner, smaller shoots first before moving on to any dead or dying branches.

• Prune dry branches. Do not prune when plants are wet. Pruning damp plants encourages the growth of microbes that can infiltrate the plant. This is not as significant a problem in the winter, when microbes have already been killed.

• Ask an expert. If you are unsure of how and when to prune particular plants, consult with an expert at a nursery or wherever you buy your plants.

— Metro Creative

Fall pruning can stimulate growth in plants preparing for winter dormancy, threatening their ability to return next spring and summer.

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