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How to Remove Dead Wood

Timing doesn't matter when it comes to certain types of pruning

Gary Junken

A lot of the pruning you do for woody plants is done in late winter or early spring. But there are a few exceptions to this general rule. Dead or diseased wood should be removed whenever you see it, even if that is during the active growing season. In this video, Lee Reich, author of The Pruning Book, published by The Taunton Press, demonstrates how to remove dead and diseased wood.

Why remove these plant parts in the first place?

Removing dead or diseased wood makes for more attractive trees and shrubs. It also helps to prevent disease from killing your plants. When a piece of a plant is compromised by disease or entirely dead, it creates a gateway for certain pests or pathogens to enter the plant, and that can cause severe damage.

Here are a few things to keep in mind when pruning out dead or diseased wood:

  • Be sure to cut back 6 inches or so into live wood.
  • Remove an entirely dead branch to the base of the shrub or trunk of the tree.
  • Sometimes it’s a good idea to first check halfway down the branch that appears dead to be sure that the wood inside isn’t actually green. If it is, that indicates the branch isn’t fully dead but perhaps has just gone dormant.
  • Be careful when cutting back to the trunk of a plant that you don’t scrape or cause injury to the bark with your pruning tools.
  • Do not cover pruning wounds with poultices or stem tars. Allow the cut to heal on its own.

Pruning is an art and a science. If it’s done correctly, your plants will be healthier and more productive. In the case of the currant shrub and pawpaw tree in this video, pruning out the dead and diseased wood may result in a larger harvest of fruit, which makes everyone happy.

Previous: How to Prune Out Diseased Wood Next: Five Common Pruning Mistakes, and How to Fix Them
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