Roger Cook demonstrates using a bypass pruner on small, live branches
Photo: Carl Tremblay
Because my idea of pruning is to fire up a chain saw, I asked This Old House landscape contractor Roger Cook for a lesson in the more precise technique of pruning by hand. Here are a few of his recommendations.

Keep It Sharp
Dull pruners make you work harder and leave rough, hard-to-heal wounds. So before you begin a major pruning session, tune up the tool's blade.

Making the Cut
To make clean cuts with a bypass pruner, place the blade—not the bill—closest to the branch that's being saved. That keeps the cut next to the collar, the swollen ring around the base of a shoot, so the cut will heal quickly and inconspicuously. Keep your wrist straight, so you don't strain or injure the ligaments in your wrist and forearm, and your other hand on the waste piece, ready to pull it out and throw it into a nearby bucket. By cleaning up clippings as you go, you won't find dead, brown branches hung up in the plant later.

Don't Bite Off Too Much
You want to get the branch as deep in a pruner's jaws as you can without forcing the handles to open beyond the grasp of your fingers. If a branch will only fit between the tips of the blade and bill or anvil, it's too big. That's when it's time for loppers or a folding saw.

Roger's Tip: The perfect time to prune a plant is the week after the last flowers fall off. It's better for the plants and easier than trying to prune everything in the garden all at once.
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