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Safely prune evergreens

Q: Can I prune evergreens this time of year? I want to use greenery from my yard for decorating.

— Robin from Salem

A: Yes, it is safe to prune evergreens this time of the year. Be sure to prune properly, making cuts back to a growing point and be careful not to over prune. Pruning too much will result in a tree / shrub that you are not happy with all winter.

In general, winter through spring is an appropriate time to prune your evergreens. Dormant pruning is the most common time, although some minor trimming may take place throughout the year without creating problems.

For boxwood, taxus and evergreens that have lots of new growth each spring, wait until the new growth has expanded and do both selective pruning and shearing as needed. Shearing by itself is not a good practice and will lead to problems down the road.

Before you start pruning, you should have a plan. You may want to remove a tier of branches that are touching the ground for an even look under the tree. Removing branches that affect lawn care equipment may be another consideration.

Whatever the reason for pruning, you always need to think like a carpenter — measure twice, cut once. This kind of plan will ensure you do not create an unsightly situation in your landscape.

While cutting an entire tier of branches is acceptable for the right reason, selective pruning is the best bet for most evergreen shrubs and trees. This includes removing a shorter branch back to a growing point in various areas. This will thin out dense areas while not leaving noticeable holes in the tree or shrub.

Many homeowners want pine trees to look fuller for more privacy. You can do this by pruning the tips of white pines (the candles) back about a half to encourage more growth next season and create a more densely branched habit. While the tree will get fuller each year, the amount that is pruned is so small that it won’t be usable for holiday decorations. Pruning pine branches further back the branch into the old growth will not create dense, new growth on the tips.

Other evergreens have different growth habits. Be sure to check the type of evergreen you are pruning and look up the growth habit to be sure you are making the correct cuts. A fact sheet with those details is located at http://go.osu.edu/trimmings.

It is not necessary to cover or add a protectant to tree wounds. Allowing them to heal naturally is your best bet.

Tools should be cleaned after pruning evergreens, especially with the sap of trees like white pines. The University of Vermont Extension recommends using paint thinner to remove the sap. For other tool cleaning tips, go to http://go.osu.edu/toolcleaning.

If you are interested in learning more about using your greenery in holiday containers and centerpieces, view our calendar of events for several upcoming classes just after Thanksgiving at https://mahoning.osu.edu/events.

Barrett is the Ohio State University Extension Educator for Agriculture and Natural Resources in Mahoning County. Call 330-533-5538 to submit questions to the Plant and Pest Clinic. Seasonal clinic hours are 10 a.m. to noon Mondays. More details can be found at go.osu.edu/mahoningclinic.

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