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Master gardener's WCCC pruning course explores plants' 'uniqueness'

| Saturday, April 28, 2012, 2:21 a.m.

Students who take part in classes offered through the Westmoreland County Community College's horticulture program learn about plants and trees from the roots up.

Literally.

"I'm a master gardener, and I have learned so much already from these classes," Dana Anderson of Uniontown said. "I have always loved gardening, but I have now learned to look at plants and trees differently. I not only look at them for their beauty, but now I see them as how they are planted, and if they are planted right and pruned right.

"These classes have given me a whole new appreciation of plants, and I'm really enjoying it."

Horticulture classes are taught by Xuri Zhang who has been instructing students at the college for 18 years.

"A master gardener is just a brief overview," Anderson said. "These classes teach you in detail and are far more in depth."

Zhang is teaching a summer session on pruning, for 10 weeks this summer.

"For the first few weeks, we talk and we learn about theory," Zhang said, "then we go out and work in student's yards or we go out into the community."

The pruning class focuses on everything from small garden plants to large trees, and Zhang makes certain his students understand and appreciate the uniqueness of each tree or bush.

"It's important to know how each plant grows. Then you have to know where to cut," he said. "Every plant is pruned differently and you have to know the characteristics of a tree or shrub. You can't make a skinny tree big, and you can't take a tree that is 100 feet high and 50 feet wide and prune it into a shrub. You have to understand and know the importance of design."

Students learn the importance of basics, such as how and where to plant, when to prune and what types of trees and plants work best in a particular environment.

Students who take the classes range from those who are interested in horticulture as a hobby to those who are planning a business or who are working in a landscaping or yard business.

"I have a lot of different people who take these classes," Zhang said. "There are students who want to learn about the plants in their yards, and I have four or five who are already doing this as a business and already have customers. They come to these classes because they want to learn how to do it (pruning) and do it properly."

Students recently ventured to Scottdale to work in yards and learn how to prune in a hands-on capacity.

Students in the classes work in private yards and have helped local communities with landscaping and planting.

Zhang said the secret to good pruning is for something not to look pruned.

"Many people make the mistake of taking cutters and just shearing up and down," Zhang said of working with common hedges and decorative shrubbery. "The idea is that the shrub not look drastically pruned. It should simply look nicer and neater."

To contact Zhang on classes or projects, call 724-925-4257.

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