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Skaggs: Now is the time to take on plant pruning

POSTED: January 29, 2009 6:21 p.m.

Now is a prime time to prune plants, but only if you have a reason.

Wait on pruning early spring bloomers like forsythia, dogwood or azaleas until after their blooms have faded.

Pruning now will cut off the buds that have formed on the tips of the branches, resulting in fewer blooms
Later‑blooming plants can be pruned now through the end of February. These include summer‑blooming crape myrtles, butterfly bushes, gardenias and plants that aren’t known for their flowering, such as hollies and other evergreens.

There are three main reasons to prune:

1. To reclaim spaces that are overgrown.

2. To remove dead wood.

3. To invigorate growth and reshape a plant.

Knowing how to prune is just as important as knowing what to prune. Avoid shearing or topping plants, which will cause a heavy canopy to develop on the top of the plant and restrict new growth from inside the plant.

The best method is to carefully select whole branches to remove that will reshape the plant to the form you want. Also, remember to be choosy in making your cuts — always make your cut just outside the branch collar of a main branch or just behind a bud.

One way to reclaim severely overgrown plants is called rejuvenation or renewal pruning. This requires cutting the main stems back to about 8 inches above the ground.

The best time to do this is when plants are dormant prior to the spring flush of new growth — typically in mid to late February. This type of pruning works well for many varieties of plants including hollies, camellia, ligustrum, abelia, nandina, cleyera, shrub roses and rose of sharon.

However, do not attempt renewal pruning on needled evergreens or boxwoods. Also, if the plant blooms on old wood, renewal pruning will sacrifice this spring’s flowers.

Many homeowners are reluctant to prune a young tree, particularly when it is nothing more than a single stem or a few scrawny branches. But this is precisely when pruning should begin.

Ideally, deciduous shade trees and flowering trees should have one central trunk (leader) and five to eight strong lateral branches along the main trunk. Major limbs should begin about 5 feet above the ground and have good spacing around the main trunk.

Improper pruning can lead to problems. Making pruning cuts incorrectly often leaves stubs that tend to become wet and decay, attracting harmful pests. Be sure to use high quality, sharp hand pruners to make clean cuts and prevent fraying branches.

When buying pruning equipment, spending a little more initially will save you time and money in the long run. Buy quality equipment with replaceable parts and be sure to keep it sharp, clean and oiled.

Billy Skaggs is an agricultural agent and Hall County extension coordinator. Phone: 770-531-6988. Fax: 770-531-3994.



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