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MMWD Blog: Think Blue Marin

Welcome to our blog! Written by staff at MMWD, “Think Blue Marin” explores all things water in south and central Marin—water supplies, conservation, new projects, watershed management, and more.

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Jan 27

The Clock is Ticking

Posted on January 27, 2017 at 11:33 AM by Ann Vallee

by Charlene Burgi

The time to prune trees and roses is upon us. Prolonged rains have kept us all from this task. The break in the weather this weekend spells outdoor activity for this gardener, and I encourage everyone to grab a warm jacket, gardening gloves and our favorite pruning tools. Let's do this!

Pruning is very simple if these steps are carefully followed:

First, sharpen the blades on your pruning shears and loppers, as well as the chain on the chainsaw if you need to remove large limbs. Use the right-size tool for the right-size job. 

Second, assess the tree before pruning. You'll want to remove all broken limbs and stems. These are the easiest to identify. Dead and diseased limbs can be removed next. If you're not sure if disease is present, look for obvious signs of sunken wood or bore holes. Dispose of these limbs in your green waste bin unless they carry diseases that require special handling. (Contact the Marin County Farm Advisor if you need advice on disposing of diseased plants.) Next, remove all limbs growing toward the center of the tree. And lastly, remove any limb that crosses or rubs against another limb. 

The next word of advice is where to make the cut on a limb. Rule one of never: Never cut the wood in the middle of the limb. Random cuts anywhere along a limb can prevent the tree from sealing properly (people heal, trees seal), leaving the tree vulnerable to disease. Random cuts can also spur the growth of new, weak branch attachments. The only plants that can withstand the crew-cut look are hedges. For all others, make the cut at the crotch of the nearest branch growing to the outside of the tree. The second rule of never: Never remove more than a third of the tree at one time. If you need to reduce the height of a tree, make thinning cuts evenly around the canopy and think of height reduction as a three-year project.

This is also the time to prune roses. Roses should be pruned down to an outside bud about a foot off of the ground. Remove at least one old cane on mature roses to stimulate the growth of new canes. The cuts on roses should be 1/4 inch from the bud. 

On a side note if you enjoy experimenting: Take the top six inches of some of your favorite roses and dip the base of the cut stem including buds in a rooting hormone (some even suggest using honey). Insert half of the stem into a pot of moist, sandy, mixed soil. Place a plastic baggie over the portion of the stem remaining above the sand. The baggie will keep the stem moist while roots form below. Wait several months to see if the stem begins to develop leaves. Remove the plastic bag and wait for the true leaves to develop before transplanting. 

Pruning is not difficult if you take your time. Follow these basics to assure healthy, productive plants.

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