Althoughis an important garden operation, there is no need to make hard work of it or to let it take up too much of your gardening time.
We prune firstly to keep plants within bounds and prevent them from trespassing on their neighbours’ living space, and secondly to obtain stronger and better quality growth by directing the energies of the trees or shrubs into a more restricted area of growth. This operation will be much more effective when accompanied by a regular programme of generous feeding.
Another important reason for pruning is to obtain healthy and vigorous plants. In the long run, this is a labour-saving operation. Healthy plants suffer far less from the ravages of pests and diseases, so that you will need to spend less time, trouble and money in combating these.
All dead or diseased growth should be cut out regularly and any inward-growing or crossing stems and branches should also be removed to allow light and air to reach the centre of the plant.
The best secateurs are the ‘anvil’ and ‘parrot-bill’ types. The first has one straight cutting blade which cuts onto an anvil of soft metal; the latter has two overlapping curved blades like scissors. Provided that the blades are kept sharpened and in good condition, both will give the sort of clean cut that is desirable. Blunt blades give a ragged cut and this can result in cut branches dying back owing to the entry of disease. Parrot-bill blades need expert sharpening; some anvil-type secateurs have replaceable cutting blades.
Long-handled pruners will be needed for pruning trees and tall-growing shrubs. The cutting blades act on a spring and lever principle and they are obtainable with light tubular handles which fit together in sections to give a range of lengths. Older or disabled gardeners will also find these useful for pruning low-growing shrubs without stooping. Another essential tool is a curved pruning saw which enables you to get at awkwardly placed branches.
When large branches are cut off, it is important to paint the entire surface of the wound with an antiseptic dressing, such as Stockholm tar or one of the proprietary wound dressings, to prevent the entry of disease.
The tools for the job
As with any other type of gardening equipment, the better the quality, the more easily and efficiently the pruning tools will perform the tasks for which they are intended. There are plenty of cheap secateurs offered for sale, but the blades quickly become blunted and their design often makes them difficult to manipulate.