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February 2, 2023

The Garden Edge

Prune your garden to health
Pruning is the ultimate test of a gardener’s resolve. Think
about it You’re standing there in front of a rose bush or tree,
gripping your pruning shears and wondering: Do I cut here? Or here?
Too much? Too little? Or not at all?
Pruning is the ultimate test of a gardener’s resolve. Think about it You’re standing there in front of a rose bush or tree, gripping your pruning shears and wondering: Do I cut here? Or here? Too much? Too little? Or not at all?

January through mid-February is the key dormant pruning season in our area. Roses need to be tidied up. Deciduous fruit trees need to be cut back. And many larger trees need to be reshaped and renewed.

If you are a total newcomer to pruning – or never quite understand the rhyme and reason for the art – this is the time to take a pruning class, buy a good pruning book or, at least, ask a friend to explain the basics. There is nothing wrong with holding a pruning book in one hand and the pruning shears in the other as you cut and snip your plants. Here are some guidelines:

* Roses: For strong new shoots, always cut back to the second or third bud down the stem. Cut to an outward-facing bud so the new growth will go in that direction. Remove all dead branches.

Be sure your bush or tree rose is cut to a vase shape so that the inside part of the bush is not cluttered with crossing branches. Pull off all the old leaves. Reposition stakes as needed. Spread compost under the bush after cleaning old leaves off the ground.

* Fruit trees: You can’t make blanket statements about pruning fruit trees because each type of tree is pruned differently to achieve different results. Some are pruned only on new wood, while others are pruned back to old wood. New wood is the current year’s growth, while old wood is last year’s growth. If the tree is growing poorly, hard pruning can be used to encourage strong new growth. On the other hand, if the tree is slow to set fruit, lighter pruning may solve that problem.

So what exactly should you do? Basic guidelines for deciduous fruit and nut trees are to remove crowded or crossed branches and open the center for good light exposure and airflow. This is the chance to repair structural weakness and remove vigorous vertical-growing branches, also known as water sprouts. The height or width of the tree also can be reduced.

Prune citrus trees only by removing entire branches where they grow from the trunk. Heading back – cutting off only portions – of branches will remove wood that would have blossomed and set fruit this coming season.

Take care to not leave stubs on any tree, or to over prune in any single year, as this encourages excessive shoot growth and reduces fruit set.

An excellent, inexpensive disinfectant for pruning tools is rubbing alcohol. Wipe shears with the alcohol after pruning each tree or shrub, before moving on to another.

For more information on pruning fruit trees, check “The American Horticultural Society Pruning and Training” by Christopher Brickell and David Joyce (DK Books, $34.95) The text is easy to understand and the illustrations are excellent. .

* Other trees. Use the one-third rule for pruning large trees in your landscape. Never remove more than one-third of a tree’s crown. And, don’t top trees. Never cut main branches back to stubs. This is ugly and the weakly attached branches often grow back higher than the original branches. Many arborists say topping is the worse thing you can do for the health of a tree. (PG&E, are you listening?)

If the removal of main branches is necessary, cut them back to the trunk to avoid leaving stubs. The appearance of a properly pruned tree is like a good haircut – hardly noticeable at first glance.

Whether you actually prune a tree yourself depends on the scope of the job and your own confidence. If the tree is very big, or in need of serious work, investigate hiring a certified arborist to do the job for you.


A Reader Wants to Know: Lawn grows right up to the trunk of a big tree in my back yard in Hollister. I want to put down mulch, but I’m not sure how far out from the tree I should go, or what I should use? Kurt R.

Joan Says: Mulch is a tree’s best friend Mulch insulates soil, retains moisture, keeps our weeds, prevents soil compaction, reduces lawnmower damage and adds a nice-looking touch to the yard. To put down mulch, first remove any grass within the mulch area, an area from 3 to 10 feet in diameter, depending on the tree size. Going out as far as the drip line of the tree is a good guide. Put down wood chips or bark pieces 2 to 4 inches deep within the circle, but not touching the trunk. If you decide to use a weed block under the mulch, pick a product that is porous so water can soak through to the tree roots.


Tip of the Week: This is the height of the bare-root planting season. Plant new roses, deciduous fruit and nut trees, grapes, berry vines, strawberries, artichokes and asparagus.

Staff Report
A staff member edited this provided article.

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