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Sharon Kitchens

Sharon Kitchens is a neo-homesteader learning the ins and outs of country living by luck and pluck and a lot of expert advice. She writes about bees for The Huffington Post and stuff she loves on her personal blog, When she is not writing, she enjoys edible gardening, reading books on food and/or thinking about food, hanging out by her beehives and patiently tracking down her chickens in the woods behind her old farmhouse. In her blog, Sharon profiles farm families, reports on farm-based education and internships, conducts Q&A's with master beekeepers, offers tips on picking a CSA, and much more. Sharon can be contacted at or on Twitter @deliciousmusing.

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The Root with Sharon Kitchens
Posted: March 12, 2013

Basics of Pruning

U. Maine Coop Ext Educator Richard J. Brzozowski Using Pruning Shears on a Fruit Tree.

Pruning can affect your tree’s health, make it stronger and more resistant to storm damage (think downed limbs and power lines!), and make it more attractive. By understanding how, when and why to prune you can prevent a lot of problems.

Why prune (in order of importance):

  • Safety (i.e. low branches over walkways, large weak branches)
  • Plant health (i.e. remove diseased and dead branches)
  • Aesthetics (ornamental value or to control the size)

Best times to prune: Now, while trees are dormant and it is easy to get around (vs. wintery with snow). *The one big exception this time of year would be maple trees, as the sap is running. You can prune any time of year, but pruning now also helps with spring growth.

Pruning tools for trees and shrubs: The choice of which tool to use depends primarily on the size of branches to be pruned. The following are the most commonly used by home gardeners.

  • Pruning (or “hand”) shears – Scissor style is recommended for branches up to ½-inch in diameter.
  • Lopping shears – Have long handles and are operated with both hands. They are recommended for branches that cannot be cut with hand shears. Lopping shears should be able to effectively cut branches 3/4 to 1 1/2 inches in diameter.
  • Pruning saw – Blades vary in length, some are straight or curved. Pruning saws are designed to cut on the “pull-stroke.” Best used on branches larger than 1 1/2 inches in diameter.
  • Chainsaws – Best for tree removal and cutting firewood, not recommended for pruning.

University of Maine Cooperative Extension Educator Richard J. Brzozowski prefers OESCO, Inc. for purchasing tools.

Caring for tools: Wipe down to get the moisture off after each use and lubricate with WD-40 or vegetable oil.

*Safety first! Use tools properly, preferably while wearing gloves (on both hands) and safety goggles (for flying branches…).

Types of cuts:

  • Thinning cut – Taking a whole branch out, right back to its source. Removal of Waterspouts and dead or broken branches are common pruning jobs.
  • Heading cut – Cutting back the branch to just above the bud, and taking tip of tree back.

Visit this University of Maine Cooperative Extension site to see how the 1-2-3 method (meant for limbs with a wider diameter) of pruning works.

The University of Maine’s Cooperative Extension’s website is an excellent resource for information on pruning techniques.  Make sure to watch the videos “How to Prune a Lilac Bush” and “Pruning Apple Trees” for great visuals on renewal pruning and pruning of deciduous trees.

Pruning terms:

  • Branch Bark Ridge – A ridge of bark that forms in a branch crotch and partially around the stem resulting from the growth of the stem and branch tissues against one another.
  • Branch Collar – A “shoulder” or bulge formed at the base of a branch by the annual production of overlapping layers of branch and stem tissues.

Do not take on a job meant for a professional or someone with more experience. This rule generally applies to cuts that require leaving the ground (usually by standing on a ladder). Even the most experienced gardeners will call in the professionals when it comes to getting the job done right (you don’t want to hurt the tree) and for safety! The International Society of Arboriculture provides information for homeowners on when to hire a certified arborist  and how to find one. The site also has valuable information on pruning young and mature trees.

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