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Curing the Gardening Phobia

First Lesson in Pruning, No Learning Curve Required

So…there’s a shrub in your yard that bloomed when you first moved in…but didn’t bloom the second year. Or the year after. And then you noticed lots of sticks in it this year. What will you do with it?

Well, you’ve lived in your house for a few years now…you don’t get to blame it on the previous owners. “Didn’t we have a home inspection? Wasn’t everything supposed to be fixed?”

Sure…but…it’s been some years…now it’s yours…

Adopt One Rule

It is a universal rule…always cut dead twigs and branches out of any shrub. If you can grab a little time as soon as you see them, that’s ideal. But most of us can’t drop our black satin clutch on the way out to a wedding and stop to cut some dead branches.

So…really…it can wait a bit…but don’t wait too long. Now, I have to confess that one summer I didn’t get around to cutting the dead out of my shrubs until September. It’s not ideal, of course, but cut them out as soon as you can—and my shrubs survived, by the way.

The reason for not waiting too long is that dead wood in a shrub stresses out the plant. It has to support all that dead wood, and this burden can inhibit its ability to bloom or bear fruit. Cutting out the dead wood lets the plant direct its energy to healthy branches, so it can do its job of making your life prettier.

Learn an Easy Cutting Method

If you’re a beginner’s beginner in the gardening space, you might have a few other questions.

  • “How can I be sure it’s dead?” Good question…easy to answer…if branches around it have leaves or flowers on them, which means it’s the growing season…but the branch in question is bare…then it’s definitely dead.
  • “But what if it has 1 or 2 leaves on it?” If it has only 1 or 2 leaves on a skinny offshoot, and nothing else is visibly growing on the rest of the branch, it’s not worth saving. It’s as good as dead.
  • “What about all those skinny shoots growing up around the main trunk? They don’t look exactly dead, but they don’t look robust either.” Keep in mind that a shrub usually is characterized by multiple “canes”—in other words, it’s not a tree with only one trunk. A shrub has more than one. HOWEVER, TOO MANY dilutes the shrub’s energy. Lots of little skinny ones should be cut—as close to the soil line as you can. And stay on top of those—don’t let them come back.
  • “So how to cut the dead branch?” It depends on the diameter of the branch at it largest spot—right up against the trunk. Cut it on a slight angle, and leave about ¼ inch of the branch sticking up.
  • “Can I use kitchen shears to make the cut?” Nope! For a skinny branch, say ½ inch or smaller, you should use a single-handed pruner. This is one of the most basic gardening tools and is a perfect first purchase to start your gardening life. Treat yourself and make it the first tool in your collection.
  • If the branch is larger than ½ inch, you might want a double-handed lopper. This one is also fundamental for gardening work. Provides a fantastic pec workout!
  • The cutting technique is important—even if you’re only cutting dead wood. You want to cut it cleanly, and on an angle—meaning don’t strip bark down the trunk—and leave about ¼ inch of the branch sticking up off the main trunk. You are NOT trying to cut it flat against the main trunk. Leave a bit.

Enjoy Positive Results

It’s that simple. What I always find so remarkable is how perky and happy the shrub seems to look the next day. Here’s a video to show you how it’s done. It’s only 1 minute—YOU HAVE TIME TO WATCH IT.

Just like us…when we cut the dead wood out, we’ve got energy for the stuff that matters.

Let me know how you do. And remember to take a “before” picture. Water the shrub, then wait a day, and take an “after” pic. It’s fun to compare them. It’s amazing what a difference 1-hour’s worth of attention makes in the yard.

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