After last month’s column on pruning perennials, a reader emailed with questions about pruning definitions and my suggestions for pruning tools to have in the shed.
First, any gardener needs a bypass hand pruner. The curved blades act like scissors and provide good, clean cuts. I prefer it over anvil pruners, which have a straight blade that closes onto an anvil, cutting like a knife. There’s a ratcher pruner that cuts in stages, but I’ve never used one.
Next, you’ll need a lopper. I have a Fiskars with soft-grip, ergonomic handles I love. It’s easy to use and doesn’t make my hands hurt. For heavier trimming, I have a couple of heavy-duty loppers.
I also use my small folding pruning saw on branches, and a regular pruning saw for heavier limbs. A pole or extension pruner is helpful if you own trees. Always choose tools that are ergonomically designed with soft grips that fit your hands comfortably.
Someone once told me it requires 90 percent courage and 10 percent intelligence to prune.
Here are some useful definitions:
Terminal bud: Found at the top of a plant and ends of branches.
Side (lateral) buds: Formed along stem or limbs.
Thinning: Cutting off an entire stem, either back to a larger branch, to the trunk or almost to the ground. This allows air and light into the plant without changing the shape or size of the plant. Don’t go crazy with thinning; otherwise you’ll end up with excessive new growth.
Heading back: Removing only part of a branch, cutting back to an outward facing bud. Do this in moderation, too, for rejuvenation. The danger is overstimulation of growth.
Pinching: Removing a terminal bud or lateral bud by pinching it off between your thumb and forefinger. This encourages branching and can delay blooming. If the stem is woody, snip it off with your bypass pruners.
Shearing: Removing vegetative growth with pruning shears, often used on overgrown plants and hedges. You can also use the shearing technique to shape plants into different shapes. Generally, shear after plant growth begins in late spring. Do not wait until the end of the growing season or new buds won’t have a chance to form.
Always prune just above a node, where a leaf joins the stem. The node is where dormant buds are located, which will grow out into new stems.
Avoid pruning too close to the bud, too far from the bud or make flat-topped cuts. Always cut back to a live bud or branch so no dead material is left on the plant. The section between two nodes — the intenode — won’t grow new stems.
Prune to nodes that face away from the plant center so they will grow in the right direction, away from the plant’s center.
Always sterilize your tools after pruning — a diluted bleach solution works fine. Using dirty tools only encourages the spread of disease.