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Lifestyle

It's not easy to determine when you should begin pruning

Pruning may seem like a natural thing to do in late winter and early spring, but University of Illinois Extension horticulture educator Sharon Yiesla cautions that it depends on what you want to prune. Some woody plants can be successfully pruned in late winter/early spring, but others should be pruned at another time. Deciduous trees - those that lose their leaves in the winter - can be pruned while they are dormant. This is actually a good time, since it is easy to see the framework of the tree. Seeing the framework makes it easier to decide what needs to be removed. Pruning trees that have been in the landscape for a while consists mostly of maintenance pruning. Yiesla recommends removing branches that have been damaged by fall and winter storms, any branches that are crossing one another and branches that appear to have been attacked by disease and insects during the growing season. After that has been done, remove branches that will help improve the shape and form of the tree. Do not cut just to be cutting. Always prune with a purpose. Pruning shrubs in late winter/early spring takes a little thought. Shrubs that will bloom in the spring should not be pruned now. They formed their flower buds last summer. If such shrubs are pruned now, spring flowering will be greatly reduced. Spring-flowering shrubs should not be pruned until after they are finished flowering. Shrubs that bloom mid-spring to summer can be pruned in March since they will not form their buds until springtime. When pruning shrubs, it is best not to just "give them a haircut." Too often, shrub pruning consists of lopping off the top few inches of the shrub. Take time and do it right. Prune selectively. There are two main types of cuts to make. Thinning cuts are made to remove a branch at the point where it emerges from the ground. Cutting out older branches to the ground will not only stimulate new growth but also start to lower the height of the shrub. Doing this type of pruning on a yearly basis helps keep shrubs from becoming too tall, while maintaining a natural shape. This type of pruning is perfect for shrubs with several medium to large stems emerging from the ground, like old-fashioned lilac and red twig dogwood. The other type of cut is known as "heading back." With this cut, only a portion of a branch is removed, back to a side branch or bud. Making a number of such cuts at different heights helps to open the shrub to sunlight and air circulation, which can reduce disease problems and enhance future flowering. As you look to prune shrubs, remember that good pruning is often a combination of both thinning cuts and "heading back" cuts. Pruning cuts do not need to be painted or sealed. Just be sure to make good, clean cuts with sharp tools. Do not leave stubs, as these will not produce new growth and may be entryways for disease and insects during the growing season. Your cut should be made near the bud, since this is the area from which new growth will emerge. For information about pruning, home gardening or the Master Gardener program, call the Master Gardeners at the University of Illinois Extension DeKalb County office at (815) 758-8194, or e-mail prescott@uiuc.edu.

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