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What is pruning?

Pruning is the cutting or trimming of branches, buds, or roots from a plant, especially a tree or shrub. Pruning is practiced to remove diseased or broken limbs, to change or improve a plant's sh ape, or to increase its production of fruits or flowers. Newly transplanted trees and shrubs are also pruned to remove any damaged roots or to remove some leafy branches so that the proper proportion of roots to leaves is maintained. In most regions, pruning is usually done in early spring, just before the growing season begins.

Large twigs may be cut with hand clippers, but limbs must be cut with a special pruning saw. Pruning tools should be kept sharp so that they make clean cuts, and they should be disinfected by rinsing them in alcohol. The rinsing of the tools should be repeated after each plant is pruned to prevent the spread of disease-causing organisms from one plant to another.

Large limbs are usually removed with three cuts. The first cut is made from underneath, about 1 to 2 feet from the stem and about halfway through the limb. The second, which removes the limb, is made from above a little farther from the trunk than the first. The third cut is made close to the trunk, so that the remaining stub is removed. If not cut off, the stub may rot and the entire tree may become infected. Painting the open wound with special paint also helps prevent infection.

Some trees, particularly fruit trees, are pruned back so that only the central stem remains. As the tree grows, the branches that grow out from the center are allowed to remain but the branches that grow inward are removed. This kind of pruning produces a low umbrella-shaped tree that provides a large yield of easily harvested fruit.

Many shrubs and plants are pruned by pinching off or cutting some of their buds. If a terminal bud, or bud at the tip of a branch, is removed, the side buds grow more vigorously. If the side buds are removed, the terminal bud grows more vigorously, producing an increase in height. Removing side buds also produces fewer but larger flowers and fruits. Shearing is a popular form of pruning that is used mostly on hedges. It stimulates the growth of branches and produces a dense, compact hedge. The art of shearing or pruning a plant to produce a geometric form is called topiary. Topiary is practiced mostly in formal gardens.

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