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SHARPENING AND MAINTENANCE

  • If your pruners are getting sticky from sap, kerosene, alcohol, or a light oil like WD-40 will dissolve the sap and help your pruners move freely.
  • Sharp pruning tools cut with less effort and the clean cuts ‘heal’ faster. 
  • A smooth, single cut mill file or stone should be used on straight edge pruning shears.  The ‘10ss’ or the “ok6” is the best tool that I know of to sharpen pruning shears while they are assembled.
  • Sharpening your blade before it gets very dull can save you effort.  Take your file or your stone in the field with you, and touch up the blade as necessary.  A can of WD-40 can be use to free up sticky pruners in the field as well.
  • If the cutting blade is extremely dull, or has been notched, it may be necessary to use a vice, or to take the pruners apart to repair the damage.  Sometimes it is easier just to buy a new blade, rather than trying to repair a badly damaged blade.
  • Maintain the factory angle on the cutting edge. If the blade is filed flat and/or too thin, with no bevel, the edge will dull quickly, and can chip or roll.  If necessary, use a felt-tip pen to show you where you have sharpened.
  • Sharpen away from the blade, not toward the blade.
  • Sharpen only the blade, not the anvil.
  • Sharpen a ‘by-pass’ pruner on just one side of the blade.  Avoid filing the flat side of the blade, except to remove any burrs from filing the edge side. A wire brush may suffice in removing the light burrs that may appear.
  • Sharpen an ‘anvil’ pruner and a ‘double-cut’ on both sides of the blade.
  • Use one straight motion when sharpening. Do not "scour" back and forth. This will heat the edge unnecessarily.
  • Hooks or notches on straight edge shears rarely need sharpening.
  • Wavy edge hedge shears may be sharpened with a tubular, fine stone or tubular file. Do not use a file with a flat side, as this will not follow the contours of the "wavy edge".
  • After sharpening, apply light machine oil to the complete blade.
  • Store your pruning equipment in a protected environment.
  • A turbo-cut saw is very difficult to sharpen; it is usually less trouble just to replace the blade.

PRUNING TECHNIQUES
For gardeners who can't wait to get outdoors and begin working, late winter and early spring are great times to prune before trees and shrubs begin to put on new growth. Besides pruning for safety and to enhance the health of the tree, pruning also can improve flower and fruit production.

  • Choose the right size tool for the job. If you have to strain to make a cut with a pruner, then the pruner is too small for the job, resulting in ragged cuts and possible damage to the pruner.  Don’t twist the pruning shear; instead ‘open’ the cut on the branch.
  • Use hand pruners for branches no larger than the size of your little finger.
  • Don’t use loppers for branches larger than the size recommended by manufacturer.   You may not be able to prune the to the full maximum thickness, depending on the hardness of the wood.
  • When using by-pass pruners, the anvil should be on the side of the branch being removed to avoid crushing the branch collar.
  • Use sharp tools to insure good cuts and encourage callousing. If disease is suspected, clean your tools with 5% bleach solution between cuts. Bleach is corrosive, so rinse and oil your tools when you finish.
  • When pruning larger branches with a saw, undercutting first will help avoid damaging the tree.  Use the ‘3-cut’ technique.
  • Beware of overhead utility lines when using a pole pruner or when you are on a ladder.  
  • Pruning without a good reason may do more harm than good.  If you are confused about which branches to remove, start with these guidelines:  Remove branches that are 1) broken or dead; 2) diseased or dying; 3) rubbing or crossed; 4) growing toward the center of the plant. 
  • Generally, the only reason for pruning paint is to hide your cuts.
  • In our climate, it is best to avoid any elective pruning from August until we have had a hard frost. The natural response to pruning is growth, and new growth initiated late in the growing season will not be winter hardy.  Evergreens should not be pruned during sub-zero weather. It's best to prune pines when the buds are in their candle stage. Spruce and fir are best pruned when the buds are dormant.
  • Avoid pruning three tree species until they leaf out: walnut, maple and birch. If they are pruned earlier, they will "bleed" excessive sap. "Bleeding" will not hurt a tree, but it may stain the bark. All other trees may be pruned before leafing out.
  • You can do light pruning at any time. Broken, dead, weak or heavily shaded branches can be removed with little effect on a plant, no matter what time of year.
  • When you are pruning, step back and look at the plant to get the big picture.
  • Do not prune spring-flowering shrubs, such as forsythia or lilac in the spring; you will remove flower buds that already exist, and diminish flowering for this season. Instead, prune them just after flowering, as their blooms are beginning to fade.  
  • Rejuvenating an overgrown flowering shrub like a lilac is a simple process, but it is done in stages over several years. Most lilacs send up lots of new shoots from the base of the shrub each season. Look at the base of your plant to see if it is suckering (sending up new shoots from below the ground.) Right after it finishes blooming, prune out a quarter to a third of the oldest, woodiest stems an inch or two from the ground. You can also shape the remaining top-wood now. In response, the lilac will send even more sucker stems. Repeat this process yearly and within a few years you will have a whole new plant that is much more compact and productive.
  • Avoid removing more than 1/3 of a plant in a season.
  • The narrower the angle of a branch, the weaker the crotch. 
  • Flush cuts can delay healing and allow decay into the tree. Avoid cutting into the branch collar.
  • While young trees and shrubs can readily replace tissue that has been pruned out, older trees may not. Avoid thinning of branches on older, established trees.
  • It helps when pruning to understand a little about buds. Here is a brief overview:
    • Almost all growth comes from buds.
    • Buds can grow into leaves, branches or flowers.
    • There are several types of buds: dormant, latent and adventitious.
    • Dormant buds were formed last season for this season growth.
    • Latent buds are there, but remain inactive, like an insurance policy.
    • Adventitious buds are those that quickly form in response to a need, but they aren't "deeply rooted", resulting in weak growth.
    • Buds located at the tips are called terminal buds.
    • Buds located on the sides are called lateral buds.
    • Terminal buds give off a hormone (auxin) that suppresses other growth. This is called ‘apical dominance’ and it organizes the growth of a plant.
    • Pruning off the terminal buds will remove the hormone that delays the lateral growth.
    • Prune 1/4” –1/2” above the bud that you are using to direct future growth, angled away from the bud.