Monday, February 21, 2011

Ladder & Saw: Pruning Our Flowering Plum

Sunny, 63°F, a February Thursday that didn’t seem like part of winter. It was time to get out my extension ladder and do a close-up survey of the January 26 snow damage to our flowering plum.

Getting the ladder out of the shop was a chore because of the snow shovels and other stuff I had piled in front of it over the last weeks and months. And then I had to find my large saw and my pruning saw, easily done because I had used them recently.

When I climbed the ladder to inspect the two major splintered limbs, I found one a relatively “routine” challenge and the second much more complex. The first was fairly far out on a limb and would require a single cut, but the second was at a junction of two limbs with damage reaching back toward the trunk of the tree. It would require at least two cuts.

I soon discarded the bigger saw, a fine-toothed carpenter’s saw that I thought would make a smooth cut. It was too large to work efficiently in the tangle of limbs around the broken limbs. My much smaller pruning saw was the better tool for both jobs.

I started on the simpler limb and cut back to a larger side branch. Good pruning technique means more than just sawing or lopping off a limb wherever you feel like it. The best place to prune is on the branch side of the collar, which is the thickened area where branches intersect. I’ll add a link below so you can read why cutting outside the collar is important to the tree’s healing process.

The second damaged area involved a fairly large limb—about four inches in diameter—and a smaller, two-inch limb, but the splintering continued beyond the intersection toward the trunk. It took two cuts, but eventually I removed both damaged limbs. I’ll need a larger saw to remove the remaining stub at the main trunk—a chore for another day.

While I was removing the damaged branches, I discovered another three-inch limb had split about twelve inches down its center, with a gap large enough for light to come through. I’ll have to remove that limb later—or it will splinter in a future storm.

When I was done pruning, did I swab the wounds with paint or tar-like dressing? No. As the pruning brochure explains: “Contrary to what was once recommended, tree wound dressing, paint, or shellac should not be applied over the cut surfaces. Research shows that dressings can shelter disease organisms and slow the wound-healing process.”

If you plan to prune winter-damaged trees or shrubs, take a 10-minute refresher course by reading “Pruning Ornamental Plants,” a publication of the Maryland University Extension. To link to the publication, CLICK HERE.

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