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Gardening with Wanda: Know the right time to prune your shrubs, trees

POSTED: December 2, 2011 1:00 a.m.

The Hall County Extension office gets plenty of calls this time of year in reference to pruning shrubs and trees in the landscape. Knowing when to prune and how is very important in terms of maintaining vigorous health for woody plants. It is one of the most important gardening practices, and knowing the exact time frame to prune can achieve maximum results in the landscape.

Before pruning any shrub or tree, the first question to be asked is does the plant bloom on branches that are produced during the current growing season (new wood)? or did the plant bloom on growth that was produced the previous year?

In general, all new wood blooms should generally be pruned during their dormant season, December through February, and old wood blooms should be pruned immediately after blooming (spring flowering).

Many woody ornamentals are pruned according to their flowering date. For example, a spring flowering dogwood is normally pruned after it blooms. Pruning during their dormant season will remove all of their flower buds formed during the previous fall.

Many of our shrubs, trees and plants prepare to go dormant in the fall. As the winter approaches, now is a good time to take a look around and see what needs to be pruned starting in December and what needs to wait until after next year’s spring blooming. Avoid pruning in the fall since this will promote new growth that is susceptible to cold injury should we get a few stray warmer days. 

Some of the most important reasons for pruning is to train the growth of plants into a particular desired form for a certain space, or to encourage new growth and vitality for the next blooming season. As in the case of fruiting plants, pruning plays an important role in improving fruit quality by increasing light penetration and good air circulation into the tree or shrub.

Some tips on when to prune:

• New wood: Dormant season, winter — abelia, fall blooming hydrangeas (Peegee, Annabelle), beautyberry, Smoke tree, butterfly bush, crape myrtle, nandina, gardenia and osmanthus.

• Spring flowering: Old wood, after blooming — azaleas, rhododendron, forsythia, oak-leaf hydrangea, viburnum, vamellias (after blooming), pieris, Daphne, lilac, Bradford pear, dogwood, star and saucer magnolia, redbud, crabapple and clematis. 

The best time to prune large trees is in the cooler months during dormancy after all of the leaves have fallen off. Remove dead and declining twigs and branches. Prune branches that are touching the ground. Foliage that comes in contact with the soil can invite pests and diseases.

Flowering trees should be pruned and trained while they are young. Flowering trees and deciduous shade trees should have one central trunk and at least 5 to 8 strong lateral branches along the main trunk. Major limbs should begin around 5 feet above the ground and have good spacing. 

Never top off a tree. This pruning technique will destroy branching control and the shape of the tree. Check with the extension office as to when is the best time to prune most fruit and nut trees.

Pruning can create a great deal of anxiety when done at the improper time. With advice and knowledge, and a understanding of pruning techniques from your local Extension office, the gardener can gain a better understanding of the art and science of pruning. And master it effectively!

If you have a question about when to prune something that was not listed, just give us a call. We are here to answer your many gardening questions.

Wanda Cannon is a Master Gardener trained through the Hall County program and also serves as Master Gardener coordinator and horticulture assistant for the Hall County Extension office. Phone: 770-535-8293. Her column appears biweekly and on gainesvilletimes.com/life.



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