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Sharp tools, good technique are needed for pruning
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Rural East Georgia in the 1950's was a different world. In retrospect, I sometimes think it was a better world, but hindsight is not always accurate sight.

Let's just say that I was not blessed with many of the modern day opportunities of today's youth, however, the chances to be creative were bountiful.

For instance, I had only two brothers and that makes it difficult to play an equally manned football game. This circumstance led to the invention of the hedge receiver corp.

Yep, the tall shrubs at the east end of my Mama's front yard became our wide receivers and the large photinia was my favorite target. She had great hands (limbs) and if you threw the pass hard enough, the ball would go just deep enough to cross the goal line.

Lest you think this column has made it to the wrong section of today's paper, let me hurriedly move in a more appropriate direction. I mention the great foliar tight end of my youth to say I learned much about pruning during those gridiron yard battles.

The three basics of pruning that I didn't heed then are just as true today. Prune with the right equipment; prune at the right time; and prune in the right way.

The proper equipment is essential as you prune any plant. Sharpened, well-maintained hand pruners are the correct choice for smaller stems on roses, hollies or other small to medium-sized shrubs, while hand saws or chain saws are appropriate for larger shrubs or trees.

Loppers are often the perfect choice for the in-between shrubs and trees. The football that I slung wildly into that great old monster of a shrub did a great job of pruning those red and green leaves and their attached limbs.

The jagged edged stubs that were left, however, were strong evidence that my tool of choice was lousy. I realize this analogy might be silly, but take a look at the stems that remain after you have used either dull blades or electric sheers.

While many plants are extremely forgiving, a steady diet of incorrect pruning tools might lead to die-back and disease problems that could leave you wondering what went wrong with your once-healthy shrubs. Sharp blades and the correct tool will produce smooth healthy cuts that will allow the plants to heal quickly and respond with fresh, healthy new growth.

Timing is everything. While this phrase is often used in sports or business, it is just as true in the horticultural world. The rule of thumb is plants that bloom in early spring should be pruned after their blooms fade.

Azaleas, forsythia and quince are examples of plants that should be pruned after blooming. Summer bloomers like crepe myrtles and most roses should be pruned in late winter or early spring. While they can be cut back earlier, mid March is ideal for Northeast Georgia.

Most evergreen shrubs should also be pruned in late February to mid March. Now back to that football to photinia connection.

Most of my passes were made during the fall, so not only did I use the wrong pruning tool but also chose the worst time to remove its limbs. But what's a boy to do? At least it was football season.

The third essential for proper pruning is the use of the correct technique. One should always remember that pruning is local in nature. This simply means that where a pruning cut is made is where new growth will take place. Another basic fact is that pruning stimulates new growth. If these two simple scientific facts are kept in mind, the how's and where's of pruning will be much easier.

I don't think that my Mama ever figured out what caused her hedge plants to be so misshapen, but maybe she did. While that old giant photinia wasn't very shapely, she certainly was a great tight end.

Gene Anderson is the interim Hall County extension coordinator. Phone: 770-531-6988. Fax: 770-531-3994. E-mail genea@uga.edu.

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