I was perusing some of the tutorials on various gardening blogs and it occurred to me that I could share a little something, too. Way back in the day before I got married and had children, I did a lot of freelance consulting. I worked at a prestigious local greenhouse/nursery for my horticulture internship, and customers (who nicknamed me "The Garden Goddess") were always asking me to come out and look at their gardens. I got a lot of questions about pruning in the winter time, and I have a little trick for telling if deciduous tree and shrub branches are dead..without scratching up the bark to see if it's green underneath. Whenever I showed someone how to prune the deadwood out, I would grasp the twig/branch between my fingers and close my eyes with an air of deep concentration. (I was sensing the Life Force..) After a moment, I'd declare if it was dead or alive, and cut accordingly. I was never wrong, and people always got a big kick out of it. Then I showed them how I was doing it so they could show their friends.

You see, a live branch is filled with moisture, and when it is grasped, the moisture draws the heat from your fingers. This makes the branch feel cold. A branch that doesn't feel cold when held is dry and dead. It's so simple, but it never fails to impress people to watch you do it. Then they love being brought into the secret.
And you don't have to make a bunch of little scratches all over your tree/shrub while you're pruning it. Try it, it's fun!