making the cut

science based pruning: part 2 – what the cut?

What’s in your toolbox?

How many times do I have to tell you? The right tool for the right job!
tools of the trade

Pruning…removing dead, dying, or diseased wood eliminates an entry point or build-up area for insects and fungi to enter the plant and spread to other parts. Gardeners and arborists spend a lot of time and energy in this maintenance task, so it is worth the investment to purchase the best cutting tools you can afford and invest the time to clean and maintain your tools so in turn you can maintain plant health. Hand pruner prices vary from $10 to $100 dollars and in most cases with tools, you do get what you pay for. Look for professional tools with high-tempered carbon steel that can be sharpened and maintained. I prefer tools with replaceable parts -durability and longevity run a close second to function and comfort. I have had the same Felco #13 for years.

what to look for in your purchase

  • Ergonomics: The tool has to be comfortable in the hand, so try them on and try them out … the biggest investment is your hands and safety, Hand fatigue can lead to pain and serious health consequences. The tool should be comfortable to use, fit in your hand, and be easy to grip and manipulate without strain. If you have arthritis or carpal tunnel, look for models designed to lessen the strain on your wrist and positions the hand in a neutral, unbent angle for cutting. Some brands make comfort gel grips or a rotating handle to lessen the strain. Check with your garden center if they carry ergonomic hand pruners or lefty handed tools. It’s hard to “try out” online purchases but worth the time and money invested to find the right fit.

To counteract muscle stress, open the pruners and place the wood into the deepest part of the blade for maximum leverage and close in one fluid motion. Operate with the balls of your hand and finger bases, not fingertips. If the wood resists your cut, due to thickness or density – switch to loppers

  • Tool Style: The tool must be appropriate to the task. Don’t exceed the tools capabilities because wrestling and tugging at a thick stem with hand pruners damages the plant tissue and can damage your tool. Hand pruners should cut stems no larger than a pencil in diameter and loppers should be used for thick stems and branches with the stem girth fitting entirely in the bite of the lopper.

Bypass pruners: These work more like scissors where two blades pass by each other the one sharpened on the outside edge slips past the unsharpened blade. These blades are accurate and make a razor clean cut by lining the blade with the cutting site.

Anvil pruners: These work similar to a knife on a cutting board with a straight cutting blade that closes down on a flat edge with a slicing action. This style allows you to exert force and can be great for cutting dead wood but can crush soft plant tissue.

Ratchet pruners: These are basically an anvil with mechanisms that cuts in stages.

Manual hedge shears: These have long blades and shorter handles for use with both hands. Wavy edged shears are best for detail topiary work. Electric and fuel powered hedge blades oscillate and can save time and energy for lar large jobs.

how to use your pruners

  • Know the “right way up” for cutting with pruners and loppers. The smaller blade (usually the upper blade) should be placed near the bud or stem junction when cutting and sometimes you will need to adjust your hand position.
  • Using loppers on wood that is too large or dense, will cause a twist as you as you strain and the cut will not be clean. Consider using a pruning saw if this happens. Always keep a firm grip on the handles.
  • Choose a saw that is designed for garden use – double edged saws can damage and home saws can clog in the green growth.

Always carry a garden knife. I use this to smooth cuts and soft growth.

care and maintenance

We tend to think of tool cleaning, sharpening, and oiling as a chore – it is really caring for your investment. Properly maintained tools perform and give you the best pruning results. Here are some simple steps to take before you put your tools away:

  • Disinfect your tools after use, especially if you are removing disease infected wood, such as fungal canker or blight by dipping them in a diluted sanitizer ( diluted bleach solution or alcohol) and dry carefully.
  • Wash the pruners with warm soapy water and a small brush (toothbrush works great). If your pruners can be disassembled (nuts and screws) they should be periodically broken down for cleaning. Soil, rust, or plant sap on the blades can be removed with some steel wool. You can also use a cleaning solvent, if necessary, to remove any hardened plant sap. Just make sure your tools are clean of all dirt and plant sap before you move on to sharpening.
  • Inspect for repair or replacement of parts, reassemble and adjust/tighten.
  • Sharpen blades and wipe with an oil rag (spray also works fine) to prevent rust from moisture in the air.

Glossary of Terms

Apex – the tip of a shoot

Apical dominance – the control exerted by the apical portions of the shoot over the outgrowth of the lateral buds. The classical explanations for correlative inhibition have focused on hormone/nutrient hypotheses

Bark inclusion – where bark is included in the union (crotch) of two stems or in the union of a branch and trunk and can weaken the attachment

Bud – a small lateral or terminal protuberance on the stem of a plant that may develop into a flower, leaf, or shoot

Collar – swollen area at the base of a branch where it connects to the trunk

Companion planting – in gardening and agriculture is the planting of different crops in proximity for any of a number of different reasons, including pest control and pollination, providing habitat for beneficial insects, maximizing use of space, and to otherwise increase crop productivity

Crotch angle – the angle formed between the trunk and the main scaffold limb. he best angle is 45 to 60 degrees.

Excurrent – Conically shaped tree with a dominant leader or trunk extending to the top of the tree

Firewise – Originally coined in 1992 by a botanist working with the National Wildland/Urban Interface Fire Program, the term “firewise” describes the state of being knowledgeable and prepared for wildfire in residential or urban settings

Girdling roots – roots growing tangent and embedded into the trunk or into large structural roots causing, or appearing to cause, vascular constriction and inhibition of secondary growth

Head – the part of the tree from which the main scaffold branch originates

Heading – cutting off part of a shoot or limb rather than removing it entirely where it attaches from another branch

Leader – the uppermost portion of a scaffold limb

Plant hardiness zone – USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map is the standard by which gardeners and growers can determine which plants are most likely to thrive at a location. The map is based on the average annual minimum winter temperature, divided into 10-degree F zones

Root sucker – a shoot that arises from the root system

Scaffold Branch – a large limb that forms the framework of a tree

Selective pruning – Selective Pruning is a natural way of caring for your plants and trees. It begins by working shrubs and trees from the inside out, by cleaning all of the dead, broken wood, cross branches, and also by controlling the size or direction of the plant

Shearing -Shearing a plant, also called cutting back, is a pruning method that removes large amounts of plant material in one fell swoop. A shearing cut is made anywhere along the length of a plant’s stem at a set height or width, without regard to the structure of the plant

Shoot – One season’s branch growth. the bud scale scars (ring of small ridges) on a branch mark the start of a season’s growth

Spur – a short shoot that bears flower buds and often fruit, either on the end (terminally) or sides (laterally)

Thinning – removing the entire shoot or limb where it originates

Water sprout – a long shoot that grows in an undesirable location on a trunk or a major limb. Vertical water sprouts often arise on the upper side of horizontal limbs

Weak branch union or attachment – may occur at a branch union angle less than 45 degrees, but not always

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