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Master Gardener Lynn Hoffman prunes a hydrangea bush. 

Spring signals a time for people to do some landscaping work around the house, including pruning trees and bushes.

Lynn Hoffman, a master gardener for the Northern Shenandoah Valley Master Gardeners, offered tips for people pruning or trimming for the first time.

“The first rule of thumb is not to prune out more than about a third of the growth,” she said. “With that in mind, a homeowner should probably prune once a year to keep the plant shape and size in check. If not, the bush or tree will not keep the proportions that the homeowner might want on display.”

Hoffman said that pruning bushes and small ornamental trees are absolutely something a homeowner can accomplish on their own.

“A little bit of reading on how to do it is essential,” she said. “The information you gather will guide you and help in the process of cutting back the limbs and branches. Once you cut, you can’t put it back, so know what you want to accomplish.”

Hoffman said homeowners have to take into consideration their own abilities when they tackle their landscape.

“If an ornamental tree is 25 feet high and is misshaped and the homeowner can’t safely reach or prune the branches, it’s time to call in an arborist,” she said. “If you cut a mature tree improperly, this can cause those areas not to seal up and allow disease or fungus or rot to get into the tree. All these things can lead to the early death of the tree.”

Hoffman recommends tools like hand pruners, large loppers, ladders, chain saws, and hand saws to help with keeping bushes and trees healthy. She said that if you don’t have the right tools, or strength to do the work or to have a tree removed, call in a professional.

“You might see a large dead limb and think you can just cut it and the tree will be fine,” Hoffman said. “Often there is more going on in the tree that has caused the limb to die. A specialist can tell you if the tree is worth saving or if it should be removed completely.”

Before you prune, Hoffman said you need to know the type of bush or tree and how it is supposed to grow. She said   pruning is time and season sensitive.

Hoffman said that classes on pruning are available through the Master Gardeners and sometimes nurseries will have special classes for homeowners.

“Reading and researching is a good place to start and knowing what plants you have in your yard is extremely important,” she said.

For more information, contact the Northern Shenandoah Valley Master Gardeners in Frederick County at 540-665-5699; in Shenandoah County at 540-459-6140; and in Warren County at 540-635-4549.

Contact Donald Lambert at dlambert@nvdaily.com