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Prune This!


My computer is trying to tell me something. About gardening, no less. That can’t be good.

It’s not like pruners are some cutting-edge-21st-century-whiz-kid invention. Yet whenever I type the word pruners, it looks like…well, the way it does here on the screen. You know, with the funny red line beneath the word. As if to say, “This computer does not recognize the word “pruners.” Check your spelling and/or grammar and get back to me, Leo.” Hey, you clinking, clanking collection of caliginous junk, not only do I know how to spell pruners, I happen to own several, and I know how to spell the word because…because…they put it right on the package, I think.

On the other hand, perhaps this represents something serious. It could even be a kind of technological warning, since machines, complex and simple, all belong to a secret society whose sole purpose is to enslave human beings. And unless you live in Caleefornia, you might as well get all those images of Terminators out of your head, Missie. When we’re all done in, it will be by faulty cell phones and toasters and corkscrews.

On the other other hand, even machines know that pruners are at the bottom of the list of devices that will eventually put men and women in chains. I know this because I work at a fairly large radio station in a fairly large city smack in the middle of a fairly large country. And every so often, the radio station runs out of sporting events to broadcast and holds pruners to my head and orders me to host a gardening show. I try to look scared, but it’s hard to keep from giggling.

Pruner-gun dyslexia is a subset of a larger group of psychological, social and mental disorders associated with pruners that I have humbly labeled pruner mis-identification. Many of you have encountered related dysfunctions such as pruner anxiety, pruner envy, pruner dementia, pruner disassociation, latent pruner aggression, delusional pruner authority and pruner in retrograde.

One of the most serious of the lot is pruner schematica-schmatica. Some of you may recognize the symptoms, which are usually triggered by a drawing in a book about, ironically, pruning. Let’s say that you inherited a small deciduous tree that is badly in need of trimming. You reach for your book on pruning titled Slingblade. (And you thought horticultural types didn’t have a sense of humor.)

You search through the book for the specific tree growing in your yard. It isn’t in the book.

Okay. You search for something that is similar to your tree. You think you find it on page 43.

Okay. You study the drawing for the proper pruning technique to apply to your tree. Of course, the tree in the book is almost perfect, except for the one “bad” branch growing inward. It tells you to cut the “bad” branch and everything will be fine.

Okay. You go out to your tree, book in hand, and stare at something that looks like it was created by Edward Scissorhands off his medication. You look at the drawing in the book. You look at your tree. You look at the drawing in the book. You look at your tree. You look at the drawing in the book. You look at the tree.

Um, stop doing that. You are already highly symptomatic at this point, in case you don’t get it.

The only thing that will save your tree at this point is an intervention by a loved one. He or she might also point out that the reason the tree in the book looks so perfect is because IT WAS DRAWN THAT WAY, STUPID! IT ISN’T A REAL TREE! REAL TREES NEVER LOOK THAT PERFECT!

Tip to loved one: Don’t ever say anything like that while the symptomatic patient has pruners in his hands.

Speaking of tips, if you like the ones you have on the ends of your fingers, there are three ways to keep them attached while pruning. (I was going to call these “rules of thumb” and go down the same gory path.)

One is to wear metal gloves, like the knights used to wear. Rent The Lord of the Rings, no particular episode of the trilogy, if you’re confused.

The second tip is to sharpen your pruners every other leap year. I’m right on schedule.
Third, and most important, never stick anything sharper than a wheelbarrow in your ear, no matter how much it itches.

Hmm. I think I might be suffering from a touch of pruner dementia. Does my thumb seem warm to you?

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questions

I have a large variegated sedum with pink flowers that I have had for years. I noticed that it has started to send up some all-green shoots. Why is it doing this and how can I keep my plant variegated?

I plan on saving my amaryllis bulbs that I kept outside over summer, but I noticed red streaks on the inner side of the leaves. What caused that? Will I be able to save my bulbs?

I have a nicely sheltered, rounded 7-foot tall Japanese red maple on the southeast corner of my backyard. Half of the tree has lost its leaves, the formerly red bark is turning gray, and a good-sized square of bark has been stripped off on the side that faces the yard. I sprayed the exposed bark with black pruning spray to close any entry for insects. I have not cut off any of the branches.

Does the winter have any effect on the tree? Should I look for some insect infestation? What should I do now?

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