How To Prune
Below is a chapter from The Little Pruning Book, printed in 1917 by Peck, Stow, and Wilcox Company. This slim volume is “An Intimate Guide To The Surer Growing Of Better Fruits And Flowers”, by F.F. Rockwell, and includes beautiful illustrations, candid humor, and excellent, applicable advice for pruning in the garden.
This chapter is entitled How To Prune- The Wrong Way and the Right; and Why the Latter is Worth While.
“We have already said that pruning improperly done is worse than none at all. This applies not only to mistakes in pruning, too much pruning, or pruning in the wrong season, but also to a poorly done job. With plants, as with animal life, any wound is a danger spot, because it is a possible opening for the entrance of various diseases. Unless it is so made and cared for that it will heal quickly, it is almost sure to cause trouble sooner or later.
“Practice alone, in pruning as in all other kinds of work, from dish-washing to piano-playing, can bring perfection. But in pruning there are many mistakes which even the novice can avoid, if he or she is fore-warned. The trouble is that any warning given on a printed page is likely to be forgotten, until it has been driven home by a lesson from that ungentle but effectual school ma’am, “Experience.” Therefore, to save yourself disappointment and loss where it is possible to do so, make yourself thoroughly acquainted with the suggestions given in this chapter, even if you have read it over several times.
As a general rule, the earlier in the development of the plant or limb, or shoot, the pruning required can be done the better.
We have seen that one of the main objects in pruning is to conserve the energies of the plant that are wasted by the struggle for survival among its branches, using it either to increase the general vitality of the plant, or to direct it to some particular part of the plant where it would help along the design or end that the gardener has in mind. Wherever, therefore, it is possible, pruning should be sone with the thumb and finger! In this way none of the plant’s strength is wasted on growth which is merely to be cut away later. Besides this, the wound left is imperceptible and heals almost at once, and the balance between the top and the roots of the plant is not upset. This finger pruning- in some cases called “dis-budding”- should be practiced a good deal more than it usually is. You are doubtless in the habit of removing the buds from your chrysanthemums to get larger flowers and of “pinching out” the surplus shoots on your tomato plants so that they will not attempt to bear more fruit than they can ripen quickly. Exactly the same thing can be done to many other plants, shrubs, and trees, thus saving the plant and yourself a lot of useless work.
“But most of your pruning, even if you are more careful than the average gardener about “nipping in the bud” superfluous and undesirable growth, will be done with the pruning shears. In using them, there are four things which you should always keep in mind. Eventually they will become second nature, but at the outset you should learn them by heart, so that you can check them off on your finger tips any time you ask yourself what they are!
FIRST- Always leave a clean smooth cut. Careless cutting or dull shears, leaving a ragged edge, means slow healing and increased danger- to say nothing about its being the earmark of a slovenly gardener.
SECOND- Cut just the right distance above the bud. If you cut close to it, it is likely to be injured. If you cut too far above it, a dead stub will be left. On small branches and twigs, cut from a quarter to less than half an inch above the bud. If pruning is done when plants are in active growth, however, the cut should be made close to the bud, as it will heal almost immediately. The accompanying diagram illustrates how the cut should be made.
THIRD- Prune above an outside bud. This will tend to keep the new growth branching outward, giving the plant an open center with plenty or space and light. While in some specific case there may be reasons for selecting an inside but, this holds as a general rule.
“FOURTH- Cut close up to and parallel with the main branch, trunk, or stem. In removing a branch from a tree or side shoots from shrubs or plants, the leaving of a stub, even if it is a short one, delays the healing or makes is possible for disease germs to enter, thus providing for future trouble.
Sometimes it is necessary to remove quite large branches. This should never be done, if it can be avoided, but with old trees that have been neglected, and in the case of limbs broken by ice storms, or through over-bearing, and from similar causes, there is nothing else to do. In such cases, the way that is the safest and in the end most convenient, is to remove the branch first, lopping it off with an axe, and then sawing off the stub, a foot or so above the point where the pruning cut is to be made; then the final cut may be made clean and neat, just where you want it. With large and heavy branches there is the danger that it will break before the sawing is finished, and strip the bark making a very serious wound. To prevent this, make a cut on the under side of the limb; then saw it off several inches beyond this, and remove the stub.
Much has been written about protecting large pruning wounds on trees. In cases where the center of the limb removed has decayed, leaving a cavity, this should be cleaned out thoroughly to sound wood, and lined with coal tar, then filled with cement. Sound wooded wounds over two or three inches in diameter should be covered with lead paint, or with tree paint made for this purpose, to within half or three quarters of an inch of the circumference. This protects the center, which is the danger spot, and at the same time leaves clean bare wood for the new bark which should eventually grow in and cover the entire wound.”
The Little Pruning Book was printed in it’s entirety in the Fall 2009 Volume of the Small Farmer’s Journal. You can buy that Volume HERE,
specify the Fall 2009 Issue in our special back issue sale offer, which you can see right HERE.