By ERNIE REZENTS
For The Maui News—
Most people are interested in pruning their plants properly and will find volumes written on the subject. Bookstores, libraries, journals and magazines are good sources of information. For the most part people can do their own pruning of shrubs and small trees. When you need to use a ladder to prune a tree, this is where it becomes more dangerous. A branch can fall and knock the ladder from under you. Also using a four legged step ladder is not as safe as a three legged orchard ladder. I speak from experience. A four legged ladder I was using, walked while I was about 8 feet above the ground. I jumped onto nearby grass but fractured my right forearm in 5 or 6 places. The therapy was many times worse than the injury. All is well now. I have full use of my arm and am a lot wiser.
This episode prompted me to go in with about three other persons and we brought in orchard ladders from the mainland. The freight for a single ladder was about the same as for the four. If you are interested in an orchard ladder, I suggest you inquire at a hardware store first. If you cannot find what you want on Maui, write to: Tallman Ladders, Inc.; 1460 Tucker Road; Hood River, Oregon 97031 (Telephone: (503) 386 2733). Ask them to send you their literature and price list.
We have a 10 foot one at the College, and I have a 12 foot one at home. The taller one is 5 feet wider at the base (50 inches) and 5 pounds heavier (29 lbs.). The tall one is good for picking fruit and doing maintenance on the upper branches of my trees, but it is clumsier and more difficult to maneuver. These ladders are listed from 6 feet to 16 feet tall. They are safer, but you must still use common sense. They will tip over if you place your center of gravity outside the ladder’s base. I am sure there are other brands, but this is the one I am familiar with.
A small book could be written on safe use of pruning tools such as chain saws. I will not get into this subject because the manufacturer’s manual does a good job. A bow saw, lopping shears, or pruning snips (depending on the size of the job) are safer but more work to use. I have tremendous respect for the chain saw and always use ear, hand, face, and head protection.
If the pruning job is too big, hire a person to do the pruning for you. It is worth the money. I have hired tree trimmers and asked that no spikes be used on the broadleafed trees. I did not want to create trunk injuries that could lead to fungal infections. The pruner used a bucket truck or “cherry picker” to get up into the branches to do his pruning. Palms, such as Coconuts, have a different arrangement of internal conducting tubes. Spikes will cause trunk injuries, but these are more isolated and may not affect as much internal material. I would suggest that the climbing spikes and hand tools be cleaned between trees, especially if disease is suspected. Use soap and water. I have even used a propane torch to clean my loppers and bow saw after pruning a virus infected citrus tree. Viruses may survive soap and water, but heat is more guaranteed. It is not necessary to melt your tools and the heat will probably cause your saw to lose some of its sharpness. Warm them with a torch and let them cool. Clean but do not torch gas or electric powered tools. Just hand tools and spikes.
Annuals, such as Petunias, can be pinched (tip pruned) to encouragebushy growth and additional flower production. Removing old flowers will prolong the annual’s life because seed production is a “sink” for energy. Luckily, most annuals develop a bushy appearance without pinching. Because of our great Hawaiian weather, some annuals live for several years. A good example is the periwinkle. Even though it behaves like a perennial, it does not need to be pruned.
The woody perennials, plants that live and flower for more than one year e.g. Hibiscus, mock orange, and trees, will require pruning. Without proper pruning they will grow out of control. Where you want to create a barrier, have unlimited space, or want to create a specific impression, an out of control growth is permissible. But for the most part, pruning will be necessary.
Hibiscus, mock orange, blue plumbago, etc. hedges should be pruned to encourage lower branch growth. Lack of light makes for sparse growth. The solution is to trim the hedge in a trapezoid shape the top narrower than the bottom so that both sides receive light as the sun travels across the sky. Most hedges are trimmed to resemble a rectangle. The sides receive less sunlight and develop weak growth.
A very young hedge will need to be tip pruned to encourage lateral growth and develop fullness.
When is the best time to prune? Someone I knew used to say, “Whenever the saw is sharp”. This is not true. You can do minor pruning anytime of the year, but it is better to do major pruning when a tree is in either full leaf or no leaf. The worst time is when a tree is going through a transition losing, or putting on new, leaves.
Evergreen trees such as conifers don’t have a major leaf drop but drop leaves all year long. However, they do go through a resting stage during the winter and a flush of growth during the spring. So their best times sound like during winter and summer. In pruning conifers it is recommended that you maintain green growth on the branches as bare wood does not always sprout new growth and may die.
Prune the least amount possible for a better selection later. Branches left on the tree will feed it. A well fed tree will develop stronger roots and trunk and be much healthier. When transplanting it may be necessary to do limited selective thinning to decrease wind resistance. As the young tree grows taller maintain a dominant
or strong leader. Tip prune laterals that compete for dominance with the leader. If they are left on the tree, they will continue to feed the tree for better growth. Remove them if they interfere with traffic. In selecting which branches to keep, wide angled branches are much strongly attached than those emerging from the trunk at a narrow angle. The narrow angled branches may be torn off in strong winds.
I will continue with pruning older trees next time and how to make correct cuts.