Give your plants a hand with prun­ing

Fin­gers and nails can some­times do the job bet­ter than sharpest tool in shed

Austin American-Statesman - - GARDENING - By lee Re­ich

Right now, you have with you a most use­ful prun­ing tool — two dif­fer­ent kinds of prun­ing tools, in fact: your hands and your thumb­nail. Let’s start with the first. Use your hands to rip un­wanted stems from plants. Yes, it seems bru­tal, but this method of prun­ing can some­times do a bet­ter job and leave the plant health­ier than can a pre­ci­sion cut with fancy prun­ing shears. Hand prun­ing — by rip­ping off stems — is the best way to get rid of suck­ers, which are vig­or­ous, usu­ally ver­ti­cal, stems.

On ap­ple trees, suck­ers of­ten pop up from the up­per sides of limbs. The prob­lem with ap­ple suck­ers is they’re usu­ally not fruit­ful, they shade the rest of the tree and they rob other branches of nu­tri­ents.

On tomato plants, suck­ers grow wher­ever a leaf meets the main stem. Sucker growth causes tomato plants trained to grow up stakes or in­side cages to be­come con­gested with stems. That makes it harder to find fruits, and the re­sult­ing dank­ness pro­motes dis­eases. Just rip those suck­ers off.

So what’s wrong with us­ing prun­ing shears on suck­ers? Prun­ing shears can in­fect a healthy plant with dis­eased sap picked up from a sick plant. Your hand, grab­bing only the out­side of a stem, is un­likely to trans­mit dis­ease from one plant to the next.

Also, suck­ers cut back with prun­ing shears of­ten rebel with one to four vig­or­ous, new suck­ers pok­ing up right where you cut. Such regrowth is rare when you grab a sucker in your hand, then give it a quick down­ward jerk, be­cause then buds hid­den at the base of a shoot come off also. Hand prun­ing is most ef­fec­tive with suck­ers that are still young and suc­cu­lent.

Now for the thumb­nail. This tool has a dif­fer­ent use than your whole hand.

Your thumb­nail is ideal for pinch­ing out just the tips of shoots. Why would you want to do that? For one thing, to pro­mote bushi­ness. Of your zin­nia plant, for ex­am­ple. Or your cush­ion mums. Or your pot­ted avo­cado, which thus far is per­haps noth­ing more than a sin­gle, gawky stalk.

Pinch­ing out the tip of a shoot with your thumb­nail is also use­ful for tem­po­rar­ily check­ing the shoot’s growth. Do this when more than one stem is try­ing to be­come the main trunk of a young tree. Too many “top dogs” lead to weak limbs, so pinch out the tips of all but the best shoot to give that shoot the op­por­tu­nity to jump ahead of the pack and be­come the fu­ture tree trunk.

The ad­van­tage of pinch­ing the tips of such shoots rather than just lop­ping off whole shoots is that pinch­ing is less de­bil­i­tat­ing to a young tree, which, af­ter all, you want to grow as much as pos­si­ble.

Use your thumb­nail also to pump more en­ergy into flow­ers and fruits. “Din­ner­plate”-size dahlias come from pinch­ing off blos­som buds form­ing along the stems, leav­ing just the flower on the top of the stem. (In ad­di­tion, start with a nat­u­rally large-flow­ered va­ri­ety.)

And large, lus­cious peaches and ap­ples are what re­sult when you pinch off enough fruitlets to put a few inches of space along the stems be­tween those that re­main.

Es­pe­cially this time of year, while flow­ers are in bud, fruits are small and stems still suc­cu­lent, your hands of­fer two con­ve­nient and low-main­te­nance prun­ing tools. Use them!

lee Re­ich As­so­ci­Ated Press

Pinch­ing back new growth with your thumb­nail is one way to keep plants com­pact or en­cour­age bushi­ness, de­sir­able for a rose­mary top­i­ary. Other plants, such as toma­toes, ben­e­fit from re­mov­ing suck­ers by hand to avoid spread­ing plant dis­eases with a blade.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.