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Tree pruning safety tips

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Penelope O’Sullivan

(Read caption) Blogger Penelope O'Sullivan grows yellow European ash for its butter-hued new stems and stunning gold fall color.

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It was Saturday at 3:15 p.m., and my husband, Bob, was pruning a yellow European ash, Fraxinus excelsior ‘Aurea’, removing some small-caliper branches touching the ground.

Being proud of our landscape, he wanted to clear the debris off the lot. We had to go right away to the town dump, which opens Saturdays-only until 4. Because he rushed, he forgot to take the usual precautions. He grabbed a six-inch pruning saw and started to hack away.

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The first couple of branches were easy to see, even though fully leafed. The third, however, projected at a narrow angle from the bottom of a low-hanging limb. The saw cut quickly through the light branch and into his thumb. Before he knew what had happened, he was howling with pain and the frustration of a job undone.

I write this not for the gore but for the lesson: Wearing work gloves would have prevented this accident. Because Bob’s cut was relatively slight, a pair of heavyweight gardening gloves could have protected him from the blade.

Moreover, if we’d pruned this tree when it was dormant, we’d have seen more clearly what we were doing. It would have been light under the canopy instead of shady.

In fact, pruning toward the end of the growing season is usually not a good idea. It can weaken a tree, though that wasn’t an issue in this case because of the small number and size of branches removed.

When trimming small trees and shrubs, proper pruning gloves, long-sleeved shirts, and long pants can prevent scratches and chafing.  Wear safety glasses to guard the eyes, or, for heavier pruning, a safety helmet with a deep visor to protect from flying chips and falling wood. Safety shoes protect feet and toes.

If you’re a homeowner, leave pruning on ladders and tree-climbing to certified arborists.

My daddy used to say that haste makes waste, and that’s the truth. By the time we stopped the bleeding, bandaged Bob's thumb, loaded the car with tree prunings, and drove to the dump, it had just closed.

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For some governmental pruning tips, see:

Penelope O’Sullivan, who writes about trees and shrubs at Diggin’ It, is the author of “The Homeowner’s Complete Tree & Shrub Handbook: The Essential Guide to Choosing, Planting, and Maintaining Perfect Landscape Plants.” She has a landscape design business on the New Hampshire seacoast.