Pruning tools

A variety of pruning tools.

MICHAEL PARKER, For the Pantagraph

Pruning of trees and shrubs can be an easy practice for informed gardeners. Pruning should be done at the appropriate time of year with the right tools and have a purpose.

Most pruning of landscape trees is done to improve structure, safety and aesthetic value of the tree. The proper pruning practice can increase floral displays or fruit load, prevent breakage and ultimately lengthen the life of the tree. A well-pruned tree can be worth thousands of dollars in the landscape.

Prune deciduous trees are while they are in full dormancy: in Illinois, that is February or March. They are not fully dormant earlier, and new shoots will die from future frosts. Any time during the growing season, pruning cuts will be an avenue for disease and insect infestations.

The exceptions are elms, magnolia, dogwood, walnut, birch and maple, which should be pruned in autumn.

Prune evergreens in late spring or early summer after the new growth has begun to harden. Pruning of shrubs that flower before June 15 (lilac, forsythia, viburnum) should be done in the summer after the blooms have faded. Late-flowering shrubs (panicled hydrangea, spirea, hibiscus) can be pruned in the early spring.

Winter pruning of deciduous trees is ideal because the naked stems allow the gardener to see the structure of the tree.

Most pruning of young trees should be done two to three years after planting. According the University of Florida, a tree should be pruned at least seven times in its first 25 years. Pruning larger and more established trees may take several years, because you never should remove more than 10 to 15 percent of the canopy in one growing season. Large trees should be left to professional arborists. Homeowners should not prune trees along roads or under power lines.

A good pruning tool kit would include a good pair of bypass pruners, hand saw and loppers with handles. The handsaw will be useful for large branches; the bypass pruners are ideal for smaller branches and cleaning up wounds. Pruning tools should be kept sharp and clean. Jagged cuts will not heal properly. Sanitation of tools should be done between each tree, dipping the tools into a sanitation liquid of rubbing alcohol or a 10 percent bleach solution.

Kelly Allsup is the University of Illinois Extension horticulture educator in Livingston, McLean and Woodford counties.