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Image by Lisette Verwoerd

Diane Emerson - Pruning & Tool Talk

Image by Ray Hennessy

"Winter Apple Tree Pruning" presented January 2024


Disclaimer: My guidance is only one opinion on how to prune, there are many out there. Pick what you like, and ignore the rest.

Key considerations when looking at your apple tree:

  • Pruning for production? Leave small 'stubs' that may turn into fruiting spurs.  Go for 45-degree angles. Shorten branches as needed to stiffen them.  Remove weak and competing branches, and branches heading back into the trunk. Lower height for ease in harvesting. Thin for light and air movement. Consider pruning nearby trees to give the apple more light.

  • Pruning for looks? Reveal the trunk. Maintain graceful lines, up and out.  Do not shorten branches; remove them completely: No stubs. Remove all branches or fruiting spurs coming out of the bottom of the branches, and then the trunk. Let it grow tall, but not vertical. Thin for balance. Remove vertical 'water' sprouts' all the way. If the apple tree is leaning away from other trees, consider pruning or removing the other trees or key branches. Separation is important for looks.

  • Pruning for tree health?  Look for weak attachments, narrow crotches, including bark, and disease. Prune less than 25% of live wood in a whole year in a mature tree. Remove crossing branches. Thin for good air circulation. If the tree is being shaded out, consider pruning nearby trees or key branches. Pruning where deer are present? Prune up to where the deer cannot easily reach.  Do this also for ease of mowing.

  • In all cases, create a "pruning bay", that allows you to get into the center of the tree on a ladder. This is important for all pruning, as well as fruit harvesting.

  • For all mature apple trees, prune no more than 25% of the live wood IN A WHOLE YEAR. This is your 'pruning budget'. when you prune leave the branches nearby so you can eyeball when you have reached your limit for that pruning session.

  • If you need to remove a large limb to reduce the height of the tree or for other reasons, do this in Summer, to minimize a huge number of water sprouts popping up in Spring, as the tree tries to replace all that live wood you took off.

Sources for Tools:


Pruning Guidance:

"Pruning Tips for Overgrown Shrubs" presented Oct. 2023

How to Shrink a Shrub:

  • Locate the worst offending branch (tallest or sticking out the most.)

  • Follow it back all the way to where it joins a bigger branch.

  • Cut it off there, leaving about 1/4" of the branch that you are removing.

  • Sometimes, there is no bigger branch, and you have to cut it off at ground level. That is OK! Don't be scared. Use your oldest saw blades to cut at ground level because soil will dull them quickly

  • Step back and locate the next worst offender. Repeat as needed, but do not cut off more than 25% - 30% of the live wood.  Keep the cut branches in a pile near you so you can judge your %.

  • As you continue, you may decide that taking the next branch will leave too big a hole in the shrub. If so, leave it for next year's pruning adventure. 

"This process will not only reduce the overall size of the shrub, it will also thin it out and let in light and air to the center of the shrub"


Shrubs Grow From Where you Cut Them:

If you only cut the ends of the shrub over and over, eventually all the growth is on the outside surface of the shrub.  The insides of the shrub will be shaded out and will have no leaves.  This is why you need to prune deep inside the shrub instead of only at the surface.

Shrub or Small Tree?

when you have an old mature shrub you often have a choice of retuning it to a smaller shrub form or turning it into a beautiful small tree.

How to decide?

Get inside the shrub and see what the trunk looks like.  If it looks pretty to you, and it is OK to have the shrub remain tall, prune it as a small tree.  If the trunk isn't pretty to you and you want the shrub to be smaller go for turning it back into a smaller shrub.

How to turn a Big Shrub into a Small Tree:

Prune from the ground up, at the base of the shrub. Prune all the smallest branches, leaving only the nicest, largest trunk(s) of the shrub. Clean away all the branches until 1/3 of the trunk(s) are visible when you stand back and look at it.

How to turn a Big Shrub into a Smaller Shrub:

Much depends on the species of the shrub itself.  Some shrubs (cane growers, especially) can be cut down nearly to the ground every few years and they will come back;  even an old rhodie might come back if it is severely pruned.  If you are at the point where you are OK if the shrub dies, go ahead and severely prune it.  if it comes back, you have a smaller shrub.  If it dies, you can remove it then.


NOTE: Water the shrub well for weeks after pruning if it is dry out so it can recover from the stress of pruning.

King County Wastemobile annual visit to Vashon
April 21 -23rd, 2023 

17001 107th Ave SW, Vashon 98070 (Tjomsland Gravel Pit)

What can you bring to the Wastemobile?

Residents and small businesses can safely drop off household hazardous waste such as oil-based paint, batteries, antifreeze, or pesticides to the Wastemobile at no cost. 

No latex paint accepted.  There is a limit of 50 gallons for most liquid hazardous waste per residential customer per day at all Wastemobile events. There is a 5 gallon limit on gasoline, oil and antifreeze.  No containers over five gallons in size will be accepted.  

For everyone's safety, please:

  • Do not mix products.

  • Keep products in their original containers.

  • Label products that are not in their original containers.

  • Secure products so they do not spill or leak.

  • Store hazardous products in the trunk of your vehicle, truck bed, or trailer, keeping them separate from items you wish to keep.

  • Stay in your vehicle and listen to directions from on-site staff while visiting the Wastemobile.

Before you go, check out a full list below of accepted items and quantity limits for residents and eligible businesses.

Image by Wolfgang Hasselmann

It's Slug Season! - presented April 2023

Garlic Wash Recipe

Ingredients:  2 blubs garlic, 2 pints of water

Crush bulbs of garlic
Steam or boil in 2 pints of water f
or 3-4 minutes until blanched
Strain mixture and make back up to print
leave to cool


When ready to use, mix one tablespoon in five quarts of water and sprinkle on to leaves in late afternoon (in dry weather).  Re-apply every two weeks. The mixture dries on the leaves making them unappealing to slugs and snails! The mixture will apparently dry on the leaves making them rather unappealing to slugs and snails!


Holly, Ivy, Scotch Broom, and Blackberries –
 NonChemical Removal


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Holly and Scotch Broom
Small holly trees and Scotch Broom are best removed with a Weed Wrench. The Vashon Tool Library has medium and heavy duty weed wrenches you can borrow.   


Once ivy begins to climb, it will make berries and the birds will spread those berries throughout our forests. So it is important to keep ivy from climbing. To get ivy off your trees, find every ivy stem all around the tree. Pull it away from the base of the tree and cut it off 6 ft. up the tree. It will help to have something to pry it away from the tree so you can cut and pull it. For very large ivy trunks, a reciprocating saw with a pruning blade works very well.

Himalayan Blackberry
If they are growing in a flat area, you can rent large equipment to tear it out, or keep it mowed until it gives up. But it will still be there along the fence line. Those you will need to dig out. My favorite tool for this is the sawtooth shovel, available at Ace and Island Lumber. For blackberry growing in among trees or shrubs, cut the blackberries down with a lopper, but leave one strong stem 1 foot or so tall to grab into when you dig the root out with the sawtooth shovel.

If blackberries are growing on a steep slope, cut them down, but don’t dig them out until replacement shrubs are in place and growing well. The slope needs the roots. If you do dig them all out at once, be prepared to replant immediately, and consider laying down and staking Jute Erosion Control mesh. You can buy a roll 4 ft. by 225 ft.

Best price: Home Depot $136 plus tax and delivery. Don’t lay down plastic mesh.


Presented February 12, 2023

Glyphosates - presented December 12, 2022