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Laughlin: Want to be a shear genius? Here are some landscape pruning tips

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Most of your landscape pruning chores, with a few exceptions, should be done from now until early in March.

You may have chosen to just initially deal with all the fallen limb cleanup or hazardous limb removal in the aftermath of the early ice storm we had last year. Now you may be preparing to do winter pruning to help correct some of the damage and give your trees a better chance to survive.

Larger limbs that would require a bow saw or chainsaw or jobs that require a ladder are probably best left to a professional arborist. If you are going to hire an arborist, make sure that they have insurance against personal injury and property damage.

One of the saddest things that occurs after this kind of storm damage is that many trees are topped by “tree services” who are not trained arborists. Do not “top” or “dehorn” your trees or allow anyone else to do so. This practice results in weak shoot growth that is unattractive and will break away from the tree in future ice or windstorms.

If you want to understand more about proper pruning or to do the pruning yourself, take time to learn about the best methods and timing to prune. The Oklahoma Cooperative Extension Service has great fact sheets available such as No. 7323, “Managing Storm-Damaged Trees,” and No. 6409, “Pruning Ornamental Trees, Shrubs, and Vines,” which can be obtained online at

In addition to this correctional pruning, we usually prune to train a plant so that we will minimize the hazard of limbs interfering with power lines or blocking sight lines at driveways or street corners. Pruning also is used to maintain plant health by removing dead, diseased or damaged branches. Often, pruning is used to restrict growth, such as pruning to prevent a plant from overgrowing its space in the landscape and prevent the need for drastic pruning in the future.

Pruning also is done to improve the quality of flowers, foliage and stems. Summer flowering shrubs such as butterfly bush, crape myrtle and rose-of Sharon, produce their flower buds on spring growth, so they can be pruned now.

Wait to prune spring flowering shrubs such as azaleas, flowering quince and forsythia, until after they bloom and the flowers fade later in spring, since they produce flower buds on summer growth. Wait to prune roses until early March.

A good folding saw, sharp hand pruners and leather gloves will be all that is needed for the homeowner to do most of the pruning around the landscape. You may need hedge shears if you are hedging and perhaps long handled loppers for some jobs. Except for the smallest of branches, the saw will always make a cleaner cut than the hand pruner.

There are exceptions, and ice storm damage is one, but the normal recommendation is to never remove more than one-third of the branching system of any tree or about two-thirds of a shrub or vine in any year.

When pruning, do not cut flush to the trunk or main stem. Instead, remove limbs with bulges (branch collars) flush to the bulge, not flush with the trunk. Remove limbs without the swelling almost flush with the trunk.

Do not use wound dressings or paints on your cuts. Dressings may actually harbor disease organisms rather than exclude them. And a good, clean, unpainted pruning cut will callus over faster than a painted one.

Julia Laughlin is an extension educator in horticulture with the Oklahoma State University Cooperative Extension Service in Oklahoma County. Email her at

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