Hedge your stress by trimming yard artfully in pruning season

March 13, 1994|By Marty Hair | Marty Hair,Knight-Ridder News Service

Once when I got a new job, I nearly leveled a privet hedge.

The job change coincided with a move to a different house, surrounded by untrimmed greenery.

At work, I faced challenges, intrigue, competition -- stress city. On my days off, I tried to relax.

Soon, the way to do that became clear. I began pruning the poor privets. Every week.

A nip here, a slice there with the long-handled trimmers, the manual trimming equipment that required lots of energy and yielded lots of satisfaction.

I felt better, but the ever-dwindling row along the driveway started looking scared. Pruning is the perfect therapy for passive aggressives, unless, of course, you are the plant.

Just before someone called Plant Amnesty, I left the privets, transferring my tools and tensions to the back yard -- where new, wonderfully unkempt challenges awaited.

The plants survived that season; I grew to love the job. Some 15 years later, I still enjoy cutting and shaping plants, whether to improve their physical state or my mental one.

So I welcome the annual late winter/early spring pruning season. The best time to prune many deciduous shrubs and trees is just before new growth shows.

This is when you can see their natural shape, before it's hidden by leaves. Once you can safely work outside without falling into a snowbank, prune to help spur healthy new growth.

Do not, however, do major pruning of spring-flowering shrubs such as lilac, forsythia, mock orange, crabs or weigela. Wait until just after they bloom. Prune evergreens in May, after the first spurt of new growth.

For the remaining candidates, start by removing dead or damaged branches. Then take off suckers and watersprouts, those pencil-like whips that spurt up from the base or straight up from the branches.

Next, trim off branches that rub against each other. Make the cut just above the branch collar, or swollen ring where the branch meets the trunk. The plant will heal itself. Despite recommendations of years past, the thinking now is that it's best to leave cuts open. Sealers or paints are no longer suggested.

Some trees, such as maples, will bleed when pruned in the

spring. It doesn't harm them. Pruning should follow the plant's natural shape, as well as open it to sunlight and air circulation.

"Pruning is almost an art form," says Mike Palmer, horticulturist at the University of Michigan Matthaei Botanical Gardens.

Many trees and shrubs have one central branch, or leader. If two branches compete, forming a "V," remove one branch.

When shaping a deciduous hedge, keep the top slightly narrower than the bottom to allow more light to reach inside.

Some plants, including privets, may be cut to the ground to reinvigorate them, although less drastic measures are usually selected.

Pruning of larger shrubs and trees -- anything you can't reach from the ground -- is best left to professionals.

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