Pruning: Derek Welsh’s Tips

Derek?s Tips: ?Equipment ?Don?t Take Out Too Much ? Visual Structure ? Consultation

The most important piece of advice for gardeners who want to start a new garden or revive and old one is?get an expert in to prune. I see horrific damage all the time: stubs (chunks poking out of the side of a branch); lousy cuts (instruments not sharp enough); great chunks hacked out of hedges and trees. The kind of mistakes that ruin a good plant. An hour with a creative arborist will reveal the glories of good structure, let light into a garden and rejuvenate an old plant.? It is money well spent, and will pay off big time.

Derek Welsh of Authentic Tree Care Inc. (1-888-366-2273) comes here every year to check out the shape and health of my trees, then every second year he returns to prune. This was the year for the Big Chop and what a relief. I feel as though I can breathe more easily and move through the garden without having branches whapping all body parts.

Following Derek around is a pleasure. You may think you can prune, but most of us are terrible at it. When he cuts off branches they are not flat against the trunk; and there are no protruding stubs for bugs and diseases to get in. His cuts are smooth, on a diagonal so that the tree or shrub can heal itself. He would never use wound dressing since how he prunes enhances the healing process.

Derek is generous with his tips:

  1. The equipment: use one good pair of clippers all the time. Buy a pair that fits your hand well (and this may not be the most expensive thing in the shop), and keep them on you whenever you wander into the garden. He?s been using the same pair of Felco #2s for years and never has to sharpen them. But then he?s using them every day. Most of us aren?t, so store them in a dry place.
  2. Don?t take too much out of a shrub or trees.? Derek?s an artist and he can make something wretched look exquisite . Too often people mistake ?Remove one-third of a shrub each year.? with whacking it back by a third. Never remove more one third of the branches starting with the dead ones, crossers (two branches crossing or touching) and anything that strikes you as ugly. Do this before you tackle anything else.
  3. Visual structure: To improve the structure, move around the plant several times and sort out what you want to reveal. Take a bit off here and bit off there and do it very carefully. When he opened up a big old shrub by taking off all the side branches, and everything that looked diseased or dead,? I was suddenly seeing the beginning of a new shrub.? He removed all the suckers and pretty soon things got to look a lot tidier. And, hola, more space to plant ferns underneath.
  4. Consultation. You have to discuss your major plants with the arborist, especially if you are afraid you might lose a? big one.? My inclination is to always concede to the expert but this isn?t necessarily the best route. You see your plants every day and as Derek says ?I can see what it will look like when I?ve finished. But a client can?t.? But you do have final say. On the other hand,? I?ve seen him do drastic cleanouts of old trees like oaks, with clients moaning away. Then a year later they call up and say ?Wow it looks fantastic.?

Never ever hire someone who will spike a tree (wear spurs to skinny up a trunk), they don?t know what they are doing.

Make sure the arborist is certified, and will come to give you a free estimate (don?t faint these guys can cost $1,000+ a day), and trust me it will be worth every penny you invest. A mature tree is worth tens of thousands of dollars. Take care of yours.