Good pruning technique can help your trees and bushes reach their potential

A cherry tree in blossom by the stairs behind Fireweed Place in Juneau on April 24, 2024. Buyarski says the cherry trees downtown are “severely, really thick,” and that pruning would help a lot. (Will Mader/KTOO)

If you’ve taken a walk outside in Juneau lately, you’ve probably noticed the smell of growing things. Maybe you’ve also noticed the budding and blooming trees and bushes.

Master Gardener Ed Buyarski says proper pruning techniques can help your trees reach their full potential. He says to start with some basic rules.

“First, take out any deadwood. The deadwood doesn’t do the tree any good,” he said. “This winter, with some of the heavy snow we had, there’s been a lot of broken branches. So trim those off neat and clean.”

He says that for apple and cherry trees, the goal is to create a “slightly open center,” without branches rubbing each other.

“We want to open the tree enough so the sun gets through to the flowers and the fruit and the leaves,” he said. “They even talk about, well, “A robin should be able to fly through your tree without hitting its wings.”

He also says that it’s important not to prune too much in the spring because that will only lead to more pruning.

“So you don’t want to take too much off. They say 20% maybe, at most,” he said. “If you stimulate too much new growth, that means you have to do more pruning. It’s kind of a vicious circle, this time of year.”

He says that’s not true for pruning later in the year, though.

“There’s actually a time from mid-June to mid-July for pruning, which is going to slow down the growth,” he said. “Because most of the energy in the tree is up in the branches and trunk.”

Buyarski says not to leave stubs, not to seal your pruning cuts with paint or anything rubbery, and not to fill cracks in the trunk.

“That is not beneficial,” he said. “But cleaning tools in between, especially moving from tree to tree, if you have a little container with some 10% bleach solution, you can dip your pruning tools into that or paint them with it so that you’re not transferring diseases from one tree to another.”

Buyarski also emphasized the importance of using clean and sharp tools, fertilizing the trees, and reducing competition from weeds and grass around the roots.

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