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Pruning woody plants now helps them grow later

Georgia Consumer

POSTED: March 5, 2008 5:01 a.m.

Late winter is the time to prune many woody landscape plants. Pruning during the dormant season allows you to better see branch structure and encourages a flush of vigorous new growth in spring. By waiting until the coldest winter weather has passed, you minimize damage to tissue around pruning cuts.

The exceptions to the late-winter pruning rule are spring-flowering shrubs, including azaleas, rhododendrons, forsythia, and weigela. These plants bloom on old wood — the flower buds are formed the previous summer. Prune these now and you’ll prune away potential flowers; instead, prune just after bloom.

Trees and shrubs that bloom in summer, including butterfly bush, rose of Sharon, beautyberry, and crape myrtle, produce flowers on new wood — the flower buds form in spring and early summer on new growth. These may be pruned now to encourage new growth with abundant flower buds.

Every pruning cut should have a purpose. Research each type of plant to determine its natural growth habit and optimum pruning time and technique. Some plants thrive with repeated shearing; others don’t. If a tree or shrub is grossly out of proportion where it stands in your landscape, consider removing it and planting something more appropriate. Repeatedly hacking back overgrown plants is often detrimental to the plant and results in an unnatural, awkward form.

There are three main reasons for pruning. Keep these in mind, in this order:

Prune for safety. Remove branches that obscure visibility or that are hazardous to pedestrians and people mowing. Remove weak and overhanging branches that could fall in a storm. Have your local utility or a professional arborist prune trees near utility lines.

Prune for health. Prune damaged and diseased branches, and those that are rubbing against each other. Remove weak growth to promote increased vigor in remaining branches. Prune crowded growth to improve air circulation.

Prune for aesthetics. Prune to maintain desired size and shape, to improve flowering or fruiting, to increase light penetration and to improve the overall appeal of your landscape.

Pruning terminology can be confusing. Consult a reference for each of your plants.

Question: What are the ingredients in making lye soap?

Answer: There a several things you need to know before you begin your soap-making experience. Lye, which you can either make yourself from wood ash or purchase at a grocery store, is very irritating to the skin and can do severe damage to the eyes and throat. Lard is the main ingredient in soap. One can successfully substitute other oil to use in its place, such as sunflower, canola or just vegetable oil. The utensil you use in soap-making should be saved for soap-making use only and should not be used thereafter for food purposes. For more information on making soaps, please contact our office of consumer services at 800-282-5852.

Q: We have a beautiful gum tree but the spur-covered fruit are a nuisance. We’ve heard that the tree can be sterilized to prevent the fruit. Is this so and how is it done?

A: There is no treatment short of cutting the tree down to keep it from bearing fruit. However, there is a sterile sweet gum tree that is available from some nurseries. Its botanical name is Liquidambar styraciflua ‘Rotundiloba.’

If you have questions or problems with services or products regulated by the Georgia Department of Agriculture you may write the Office of Public Affairs, 19 Martin Luther King Jr. Drive, Room 226, Atlanta, GA 30334 or call 800-282-5852. This column appears Sundays.



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