Wednesday, March 3, 2010

March Chores - Pruning

Before the month of March is over I plan to get all of my pruning finished. February is usually just too darn cold to get out with my pruners and my handy dandy folding saw so I have made a deal with myself that I can feel good about: March is pruning month. Once we see the longer warmer days of April the trees and shrubs have started to send out new shoots and the sap begins to flow making it harder to heal the cuts.

Before you head out to your unsuspecting trees and shrubs armed with saws and pruners you need to know what you are pruning and when it flowers to understand how it responds to pruning. The reason we go to all the trouble of pruning is to keep our trees and shrubs healthy by removing dead and diseased limbs, opening the plant for better circulation or just plain old shaping to keep it looking great.

Hardwood trees and shrubs without flowers: if you prune these trees and shrubs while they are dormant it is easier to see the main structure and it makes it easier to see how the tree wants to be pruned. Usually, the best time to prune in this case is during the late fall through early spring since leaving wounds here can cause severe problems with insects that are actually attracted to the scent put out by these trees and shrubs.

Trees and shrubs that flower in early spring (redbud, dogwood, etc.) should be pruned immediately after flowering (flower buds arise the year before they flush, and will form on the new growth). I learned the hard way that lilacs need to be pruned right after they flower to give the plant time to rest otherwise they put all of their energy into the seeds and you will have no flowers the following year.

Here are some examples of trees and shrubs to prune in late spring/summer, after they bloom:
  • Azalea
  • Bridal Wreath Spirea
  • Forsythia
  • Hydrangea
  • Magnolia
  • Mockorange
  • Rhododendron
  • Weigela
Trees and shrubs that flower in the summer or fall always should be pruned during the dormant season (flower buds will form on new twigs during the next growing season, and the flowers will flush normally).

Here are some examples of trees and shrubs to prune in the dormant periods between winter and early spring:
  • Bradford Pear
  • Butterfly Bush
  • Crape Myrtle
  • Flowering Dogwood
  • Flowering Plum
  • Honeysuckle
  • Hydrangea
  • Redbud
  • Spirea
  • Wisteria
Prune dead branches any time of the year. This ensures safety year round. I take out a bucket with chlorine and water to dip my pruners between cuts on anything that looks diseased. I don’t want o spread anything nasty. In order to keep disease to a minimum in the tree or shrub I take out any branches that are crossed or toughing. Just cut these back to a bud that is facing outward. Once that is done I can look at the tree objectively and see what else it needs. I never take out more than 1/3 of a plant at a time so as not to put undue stress on it.

So, take a look at what you have in the yard and start to make a pruning guide for the yard. Document the type of plant and how it should be treated. Mark the dates on a planting calendar so that you can start to make your own garden guide. It really helps to keep it all in one notebook.

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