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Pruning cuts, how to sharpen and useful bits n bobs. part 3

img 2328 Pruning cuts, how to sharpen and useful bits n bobs.   part 3

Sorry it’s been a while since the last part was published, this 3rd part is looking at one of the most important section of pruning, sharpening your secateurs, all the other sundries that I use to keep my equipment working well and also any little extra things I find useful little aids both for getting to the plants and making my life easier.

img 1287 Pruning cuts, how to sharpen and useful bits n bobs.   part 3

Sharpening is an easy job to do if you keep on top of it. Getting the right sharpening stone is always important and for years I used oil stones but they are dirty and oily. Getting of great quality wet stones that use water for lubricant during sharping was pretty hard until Niwaki released their water stones a few years ago. The concave bottom is ideal for guiding over the edge of the secateurs at the right angle and keeping them sharp. img 2332 Pruning cuts, how to sharpen and useful bits n bobs.   part 3These water stones just need to be soaked in water for 10minutes and then dipped in during use nice and easy and clean.

img 2334 Pruning cuts, how to sharpen and useful bits n bobs.   part 3when sharpening its well worth holding the secateurs nice and firmly like this

img 2335 Pruning cuts, how to sharpen and useful bits n bobs.   part 3To get the angle right I just line it up with the exact angle it’s been made at

I made a small video showing how you use the concave edge on the sharpening stone to follow the edge on the secateurs

img 2336 Pruning cuts, how to sharpen and useful bits n bobs.   part 3

It is also a good idea to use the flat side of the sharpening stone on the other side of the blade to take off any blurs and unevenness you may have. Instead of going in flat, go at a slight angle as this will a stronger axe shape cutting edge that will hold its edge for a little longer

Then just test it to make sure they are sharp enough, here’s a leaf I am cutting though

Generally speaking I use the 1000 grade stone to keep an edge and the 220 if I manage to hit wire or needs a heavier sharpen.

It’s worth sharpening them after about half a days pruning, you will be surprised how quick it is to do. To test how sharp they are, either try shaving your arm or the safer action of cutting a leaf in half!

img 2328 Pruning cuts, how to sharpen and useful bits n bobs.   part 3

I do have a few bits n bobs I use

1) is my peak cap, this is ideal to stop or slow down branches hitting you in the face or if you are lucky like me and going thin on top, protects your head from thorns. Also useful in shading eyes from the sun when it’s shining in your eyes

2) first aid kit! Accidents happen and it’s best to be prepared in case it does, loads of different shape plasters and eye wash is ideal as are a fine pair of twizzers to get out fine thorns

3) my small bag, this is ideal for holding secateurs and string if I am pruning in the summer and wearing shorts and Tshirt, also ideal for holding string when I have nowhere else to put it.

4 + 7) camellia oil, I wish it was for my hair but those days are long gone! I use this Niwaki product to oil my secateurs and other hand tools. I like using the more natural product than oil and find this idea for use. Number 7 is the applicator for applying it to the blade

5) Trust Jake at Niwaki to be the first to bring out a double holster that holds both secateurs and pruning saw. Simply ideal if I am not wearing my Genus trousers with their knife proof saw and secateur pockets. You can buy a handy clip to easily add it to your belt too.

6) cleen me, ok sadly the translation from Japanese to English went a little wrong but the cleen block is great to remove sap and dirt from your secateurs, add a little camellia oil and it will remove most stubborn sap deposits, again another excellent Niwaki product

8) nutscene twine. At this moment of time, reducing use of plastics is a big thing, nutscene is a great natural product made in Scotland and it the only thing I use to tie up plants, no need for rubber or plastic ties

One thing I left off is eye protection, when pruning, you should really wear safety eye wear to protect your eyes, that said I need to listen to my own advice!

Please note I am not sponsored by Niwaki but I use their equipment because I feel it’s the best out there, no other reason

Gloves are the next big thing, I do a lot of rose pruning and other plants that like to return the favour, some like Berberis, blackthorn can leave you with wounds that take a lot of time to heal over, then there’s the risk of catching tetanus and septicaemia. All good reasons to wear the right gloves, so here’s some of the ones I use

img 2330 1 Pruning cuts, how to sharpen and useful bits n bobs.   part 3

1+2) Goldleaf range of gloves are superb, they are made from deer hide and are very flexible and tough wearing, very hard to get a thorn though them! I use a few of their gloves, 1) is the winter touch, ideal for the cold days of winter and 2) are the dry touch, very happy to wear both gloves

3) a pair of nitrile gloves, simple, cheap and ideal for being about to work in and tie in Plants. I use these with thornless plants

4) three finger framed gloves. These are great! I use them for pruning all types of climbing plants as you have 3 fingers (ok 2 fingers and 1 thumb) open so you can tie in plants, the tough leather band across the knuckles means you can push the Rose into the wire to tie it tighter without getting any thorns in your fingers. Great little pair of gloves or they would be if I could find the other one in the back of the van!

That’s it for this series, I hope you enjoyed it and it has helped you a little bit with your pruning

Until next time, happy pruning

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Step by step guide to Rootballing shrubs and small trees

img 1827 Step by step guide to Rootballing shrubs and small trees

Yes we all do it, plant a plant in the wrong spot or a spot that for various reasons, ends up being the wrong spot in the end. But what to do with it? The cost of mature plants is a fair bit of £££ now and it’s such a shame to lose such a beautiful plant, and there’s that new perfect spot, Just there in the corner, it’s a perfect size, will cover that item you would like to hide quite nicely but the plants just too big to put a spade around it and heave it up. So what’s the best way of moving it and giving it the best choice of surviving. The answer is of course is to lift it with a root ball attached. This rootball is a area of fibrous roots still in their soil just lifted carefully. The key work is fibrous root system, plants that produce more of a tap root or fang type root system. Tools needed for this job are a digging spade and fork, a border spade and fork, a sheet of hessian sacking and if you are doing a lot of them, a sack needle and 4ply string.

The method is pretty easy but does take time and practise to perfect it, this is a roughly how I do it

img 1867 Step by step guide to Rootballing shrubs and small trees

Working out the size of the rootball can be tricky, there’s no method that allows you to work out the size but more comes down to the age of the plant and how long has it been in there for. For this size shrub that’s been in the ground for a few years, I went big at just over a length of a spade. Bearing in mind it’s the fine fibrous roots you are after and they are normally found on the drip line of the shrub/tree. Once I have worked out the estimated size of the rootball, I go around the outside of the plant a little bit bigger than I require, with a spade, pushing the spade into the ground to the full depth all the way around. This is to cut though any roots that are there

img 0620 1 Step by step guide to Rootballing shrubs and small trees

Next step to work out the exit point ie the point where you want to remove the plant from the hole. It’s important to think of it now before you start digging. Once that’s worked out, start digging a trench around the outside of your spade cut that you have made already. The areas shaded red in picture above.

img 1821 1 Step by step guide to Rootballing shrubs and small trees

You can see the trench is formed now and the exit point has been kept clear. You need to go down a couple of spades deep. This area is your working channel for the next bit

img 1824 Step by step guide to Rootballing shrubs and small trees

Now using a fork, gently tease back the soil until you hit the fine roots like in the picture, this bit takes time, it’s best to do a little at a time and work your way around the rootball doing this. Once you have teased some soil away, clear it out of the trench. You have to tease the soil away without putting any pressure on the rootball, so it’s almost like a flick away more than a tease. As you do this around the plant, it is also time to start going underneath as well. This is more tricky but follows the same method of going around the outside but this time you are going under! Using the curved in part of the fork, start making a slight V shape underneath the plant, again flicking the fork rather than put pressure on the rootball. Dig under the bottom of the V to give yourself a little more room. Just keep on going around until you are at least a third (preferably a bit more like 4/10ths) under on each half. Any roots can be either cut with a saw if big or just a sideways movement of the fork will snap them

img 1827 Step by step guide to Rootballing shrubs and small trees

img 1133 Step by step guide to Rootballing shrubs and small trees

Then you should get to a stage when the plant will be able to start moving slowly and should be able to break free of the ground. This is the time you need to be very careful of any cracks forming, these cracks can quickly destabilise the rootball making it fall apart. The stop them, it’s a case of reducing more soil from around the cracked area and so reducing the pressure on that part.

img 1868 Step by step guide to Rootballing shrubs and small trees

Next part is to get a sheet of hessian sacking that’s approx 1m bigger in length and width than the root ball you are lifting the roll the width up until 2/3 or 1/2 way up. Then fit it underneath the rootball so the rolled upside is soil side and the flat side is rootball side. Then push this under the rootball as far as it can go, gently push the plant over slightly onto the hessian, clear a bit of soil from underneath section that was still attached and unroll and pull the hessian though, having it rolled side down makes it so much easier to pull through!

img 1135 Step by step guide to Rootballing shrubs and small trees

Then grab the two left hand corners of the hessian and wrap together until it’s tight to the rootball and then do the same of the other side and there it is ready to lift out!

img 1137 Step by step guide to Rootballing shrubs and small trees

If it’s too heavy to lift out of the hole, you can either make a ramp to drag it out or lay the plant on its side, add a bit of soil underneath the rootball and then push it over on top it’s opposite side and add more soil, keep on doing this until the plant is at top of the hole and can be slid out onto boards

img 1829 Step by step guide to Rootballing shrubs and small trees

It’s not an easy job, indeed it can take many years of trail and error to get right but it is certainly a skill that’s worth mastering in the garden!

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Pruning cuts, how to get them right. Part 2

img 1713 Pruning cuts, how to get them right. Part 2

Well one the last part, we looked at the science behind making pruning cuts and best ways of pruning using secateurs and loppers, this week we shall look at using the power horse of hand tools, yes the pruning saw! So what is a pruning saw and how does it differ from say a carpentry saw? Well it’s a much stiffer blade that those types of saws and most of the time cut on the pull. Some can be folded up to fit into your pocket or a fixed blade. Pruning saws are used to prune anything bigger than 15mm and up to well as big as you can cut! A bit like using secateurs, theres no right or wrong ways but there’s always better ways to reduce damage or risks to the tree or plants. First thing is to get the sharpest pruning saw you can get with a sharp clean blade, over the years I have found Silky pruning saws the sharpest and even with these, I tend to change the blade every year so I am using the sharpest I can.

img 1730 Pruning cuts, how to get them right. Part 2

Now the angles of cut depending if the buds are alternate or oppersite are the same as for using secateurs on wood up to a couple of years old but they are a little more difficult to see in the older wood, almost looking for wrinkles in the Wood is almost a sign that buds are there hidden. That said in wood over 25mm thick, I prefer to do a straight cut across. The reasons are simple, the surface area on straight cuts are much smaller than cuts made at an angle, which means the plant has a smaller area to heal over. That even means on the junction of bigger branches. The pruning cut on these bigger branches to the main stem used to be done at an angle on the stem, the angle of the cut was always done just above the ridges or collar on the stem. It was thought these would heal quicker but it’s not really the case as the straight cut will heal a lot sooner.

Removing larger stems using a pruning saw is always best done in stages to reduce the chances of the branches tearing down the stem and causing a bigger damage for the plant to repair. Best way is to reduce the weight of the branch by either putting a cut on the underside of the branch to about a 1/5th of the width of the branch and at least 300mm from the trunk and then the main cut about 50mm above this. If you leave a bigger gap, the branch tends to trap itself in the bottom cut and doesn’t fall cleanly. The branch should snap cleanly off and fall down to the ground, then you finish off the cut neatly on the main stem . That cut is ideal for most pruning cuts. If there’s something underneath you that you don’t want the branch to drop off suddenly and hit, you can cut all the way though in one cut. This at times can cause a tear underneath the stems so I would make this cut at least 1000mm from the main stem in case the cut tears down. After this cut has been made and the branch had fallen down or been grabbed, the next cut needs to lighten the weight on the branch by cutting it down to 500mm before cutting the branch off at the main stem. All the cuts are pictured below

Last main pruning cut is removing stems from the base of shrubs and the key this here is to get the cuts as low as possible. Any stubs left will make the base of the plant look ugly and also mean next time you cut a stem out, you can’t get close to the base and it ends up even more snaggy

one other thing I don’t do is paint the cut area with wound paint. I prefer to let the wound heal naturally and found that the treatment tends to seal in the moisture and cause rot quicker

img 1720 Pruning cuts, how to get them right. Part 2

Picture of a clean drop pruning cut

img 1724 Pruning cuts, how to get them right. Part 2img 1726 Pruning cuts, how to get them right. Part 2

How it worked

img 1705 Pruning cuts, how to get them right. Part 2

Cutting straight through

img 1709 Pruning cuts, how to get them right. Part 2img 1710 Pruning cuts, how to get them right. Part 2

A straight though cut that shows the damage that it can cause

img 1703 Pruning cuts, how to get them right. Part 2

The growing collar as described in text

img 1728 Pruning cuts, how to get them right. Part 2img 1729 Pruning cuts, how to get them right. Part 2

Taking the stump back to the tree at the smallest point, if you had gone back harder, it will result in a larger wound and will take longer to heal

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Tool review-ARS telescopic long reach pruner 180ZR-3.0-5

img 1175 Tool review ARS telescopic long reach pruner 180ZR 3.0 5

img 1175 Tool review ARS telescopic long reach pruner 180ZR 3.0 5Whenever you are pruning shrubs there’s always one little bit you can’t reach whether its from the ground or indeed perched on a step ladder, reaching those little bits has always been in the realm of the long arm pruners. I have used many forms in the past and they all have the same problem, the blade! I love using razor sharp secateurs and want all my other pruning equipment to be as sharp but all the long arm pruners I have used in the past, well the blade not to put a fine point on it, has been rubbish! That was until I brought these Japanese made ARS ones. Yes they aren’t cheap at £119.00 but the blade is a Felco quality blade, one that holds it edge better than any other long arm pruners on the current market. It is also easily replaced by undoing a few screws. Now don’t get me wrong, these won’t handle the large range of thick branches that the more robust long arm pruners will manage but it will handle most plant materials up to about 12mm thick making it ideal for fine pruning of things like roses, wisterias, fruit trees and other shrubs. The length starts at 6ft and is easily extendable to the maximum 10ft in 1ft using the push button adjustment, just hold it in and pull the pole until it clicks in, the pruning head is also easy to adjust and goes into 3 different angles to get the right angle to get the best cut. With all the other long arm pruners I have used in the past, to cut anything, you need to pull on a rope or a lever, which isn’t ideal when you are up some steps or moving amongst a load of plants with the cord trapped up somewhere. These have squeezable handle that makes the job of cutting very easy as does the sliding grip for you other hand. The ARS long arm pruners are very well built with the added bonus that all parts are serviceable and replaceable if required. They are very little light to use and in the last six months I have had the pleasure to use them, worked very well and have been easy to look after and keep sharp. Try hard as I can, I can’t find a fault in them, they do what they are intended for, very well and indeed I am left with the feeling it was more of my hard earned money well spent

For light pruning I would whole heartily recommend them

You can buy them from a number of suppliers who do supply ARS. I brought mine from the rather excellent Niwaki and their website can be found by clicking here

img 1189 Tool review ARS telescopic long reach pruner 180ZR 3.0 5

The cutting head is well made and easy to sharpen as well as replace if needed. The flexible metal strip is what makes it all work!

img 1178 Tool review ARS telescopic long reach pruner 180ZR 3.0 5

The squeezable handles are very easy to use and not caused any blisters yet! They stay closed using the black clip. It is very easy to use and in a great position.

img 11801 Tool review ARS telescopic long reach pruner 180ZR 3.0 5

The nice sliding handle is prefect to get your hand in the right place

img 11811 Tool review ARS telescopic long reach pruner 180ZR 3.0 5

The length adjustment is pretty easy just press in and pull until you hear a click and the popper pops in to the hole pic below

img 11821 Tool review ARS telescopic long reach pruner 180ZR 3.0 5

img 1186 Tool review ARS telescopic long reach pruner 180ZR 3.0 5img 1185 Tool review ARS telescopic long reach pruner 180ZR 3.0 5

The heads are fully adjustable to 3 angles

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Hedge trimming tips 

20151013 131734487 ios Hedge trimming tips 

Well it's the time of the year when all you can hear is the roar of petrol hedgecutters  or the buzz buzz of the electric hedge cutters echoing around the neighbourhood. Indeed now is an ideal time to tidy up your hedges, most of the birds would of finished nesting (apart from pigeons!) and the plants themselves have finished their main growth spurt for the year and if trimmed now, will delightfully hold their shape and form until they start growing away next spring, giving our gardens both shape and structure during the shortened days of winter, after all the herbecous plants have died down and the deciduous shrubs have lost their leaves

Now this isn't a step by step guide but just a few little things that I do and have found, that makes the job a little easier and safer

Check the hedge out first.

We all walk by the hedges at all times don't we and the chances are you have cut the hedge before. But a lot of things can happen in a year, just have a look though the hedge checking for bottles, cans, odd bits of metal thrown in, footballs etc anything that could damage the blades of the cutters. Also see if there's any new holes or dips appeared in the ground near the hedge, may save a twisted ankle once the dip is covered up in clippings and you find it again! Lastly get a big stick (take handle will do) and smack it along the hedge, this isn't an old fashioned gardners tradition to produce a good crop next year but a way to check there are no birds nesting or even worse no wasp nests in there! Nothing worse that being surrounded by pesky 'flies' up a stepladder and finding out there are wasps!

Sharpen the blades. 

No matter what hedge cutter you use, whether it's electric, battery or petrol, it will always cut much better and easier with sharp blades and leave a much cleaner finish to the hedge. If you don't want to do it yourself, most garden machinery dealers will do it for you, for a small cost. Otherwise you can easily do it for yourself using a diamond file like the ones sold by Niwaki. Once your blades are nice and sharp, do the fine hedges like Yew, Box first before moving on the rougher stuff like hawthorn, beech, holly etc. The finer stuff do need sharper blades and done first they will avoid the dulling that happens with time and when doing the rougher hedges

Where to start?

First of work out the way you like to work, my natural working way is left to right, so I will start on the left hand side. I then cut from bottom to top, this helps to allow foliage to fall down once it's been cut unheeded and not pulling any other bits out with its weight. If there's rather a lot of foliage to get though, will do a rough cut first to remove the bulk before doing a finer one to finish. Once the side is done, I then start of the top, on the right hand side or just where I have finished doing the side. Then I cut the closest bit to me, working my way across, sweeping the clippings off the edge as I go.

Cut close!

When cutting an old established hedge, one that I have trimmed before or one cut last year, I always try and cut as close to the last years cut as possible, ideally to within a couple of mm of those last cuts, yes it may leave the hedge looking a little barer than a lighter trim but it will help to keep the hedge tighter and more compact within the space, think about it, leaving 10mm new growth on each side every year for the new ten years will make the hedge 200mm wider, 50mm would be 1000m or a metre! 2mm would just 40mm. Big big differences. img 0440 Hedge trimming tips 

large leaved shrubs  These are shrubs like Bay, cherry Laurel, tradionally are done by hand using secatuers as the use of hedge cutters tend to tear the leaves, cutting by hand is pretty time comsuing and lets be honest, we dont all have the time to do it by hand. using the hedge cutters will leave the leafs ragged but the new ones will soon come though ok. only word of warning when using a hedge cutter on cherry laurel, the leaves do contain amount of  cyanide, which on a hot day can cause a bad headache or feeling sick, indeed there have been cases of gardeners being sacked from being drunk, when indeed it was cyanide poisoning from the fumes from the laurel leaves when being cut on a very hot day.

img 0424 1 Hedge trimming tips 

Use the right access equipment.
It so much easy to get hold of access equipment now, either though hiring or buying. I am lucky, being a professional gardener, I own a couple sets of tripod ladders, a 20ft access tower and a stepping stool, all of which cover any height needs I have. It's not worth the risk of leaning a ladder into the hedge or grabbing the patio chair and doing a little balancing dance whilst standing on it. Hedge cutters are pretty horrid things to fall on and they do hurt! Just try and find the right bit of gear to suit your garden and either make a long term investment or hire in. One other thing is getting your cutters up to your working height, when working on step ladders, platforms etc, you ideally need 3 points of contact from your body to the equipment, again makes carrying anything up the equipment a little iffy. I have a couple of lengths of rope with a couple of karabiners tied to each end, I attach one to the tool and hold the other one whilst climbing up and then attach it to the ladder, platform when I get to the working height and just pull up the tool, un hitch, use and lower back down when finished .


Clean off my tools.

End of each day, I will brush off any loose leaves, give the blades an oil, that will help to soften any sap build up on the blades, then remove the build up using the crean block or a wooden scraper, spray with Dettol to kill off 99.5% of all know germs or indeed fungus like box blight and plant virus and then spray once more with WD-40. I then know the equipment is as clean and disease free as I can make it.

Look back.  

its always worth taking a step backwards to make sure the hedge is pretty level and the sides are pretty level, theres no bit missed and its all looking good. its also a damn fine time to admire your handy work!sdc10017 Hedge trimming tips 

I hope you have found the above tips useful and happy hedge cutting

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Tool review- DeWit border handfork and handspade

img 27771 Tool review  DeWit border handfork and handspade

img 1845 Tool review  DeWit border handfork and handspade
Well for many years I had a slight problem weeding, well apart from weeding itself! It was finding the right tool to use, hand forks, well they dug into my palm of my hand causing blisters the size of well of course the size of handle, the vibrations from hitting the hand fork into the soil, inflamed my tendinitis in my wrists and arm. They are good for a hours weeding but all day nah, such a small working area as well from them, then there’s a border fork, so much better, bigger working area, easier to dig down to the odd deeper root but such a pain with a big handle, just getting in the way when trying to weed on your hands and knees.  I wanted something in between and I could never find anything that was ideal, until one day looking online at crocus store, when I came across DeWits border handfork, almost as wide as a border fork at 17cm wide, but with a short dumpy handle giving it a total length of 52cm, even better there was a spade as well. The fork and spade are both hand build in Holland, by a company that’s been around since 1898 and still owned by the family. It’s made from boron steel, one of the toughest out there, they are shaped perfectly and unlike most modern tools, well sharpened and even nicer, given a nice black patina finish, that again is so much nicer that the modern stuff that grips and holds onto the soil so badly. The handles are made of ash and fitted into the socket using a handy bolt, ideal to tighten up if the wood shrinks. Both hand made tools have the their short handles finished with a T shape. What makes these tools idea, is that they are designed for working on your knees or in the very popular raised beds 

img 2455 Tool review  DeWit border handfork and handspade
So how did I get on with them? Well I have used them for the best part of two years now and they are still going strong, the fork has been prefect for all my hand weeding needs, light, very sharp, so strong and a delight to use, the small T shape handle fits prefectly in my hand, the shape reduces the stresses and shocks from the impact of the tool on the ground, making it easier for my wrists as well. The sharp points easily penetrate the hardest of ground, the width of the prongs are indeed prefect for weeding around plants and for not taking up that much soil. They are so good for any gardening work on your hands and knees, from removing or lifting up herbaceous plants, using the handle as a lever to take out even the most stubborn of plant and even lifting the odd big shrub where it’s too close to others or close to a wall, spots where it’s very difficult to get to with a normal size fork. It’s such a useful little tool and has survived without any damaged after all I have put it though! The spade hasn’t been used as much and I found ideal for planting out small bareroot plants, and pots up to 3ltr is with ease, even sliced though roots of brambles in tight spots. All again without any problem. Only fault I have had, is the handle on the spade goes a little loose when it’s dry, could do with a little more glue, might even get it swapped as they both come with a lifetime guarantee from DeWit. 

img 2776 Tool review  DeWit border handfork and handspade
In all I love my border hand tools, they are prefect for my gardening needs when working on my hands and knees, no matter what task I am doing with them. The tools themselves are quality made and that quality comes though and they are really a joy to use at all times in the garden 

If you would like them, they cost £24.99 for the fork and £29.99 for the spadeand can be brought from crocus,  and from the RHS shops.  The rathe excellent DeWit holds some great other tool eye candy for the gardener who love to use quality tools.

img 27771 Tool review  DeWit border handfork and handspade