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Cannon: Fall is not a good time to prune

POSTED: November 16, 2012 1:00 a.m.

Most of our calls to extension office this time of year have to do with pruning questions. As we put the garden to bed so to speak, many gardeners want to prune or trim back their shrubs and trees.

Although it might seem this is the best time to prune shrubs and trees, this is not the ideal time for most of them.

With only a few exceptions to the rule, many of our flowering shrubs and trees do not need to be pruned until late winter, and many do not need to be pruned until after spring blooming. Time of pruning can vary with different plant species.

Woody plants, such as dogwood and azaleas are pruned according to their date of flowering. Since most woody ornamentals bloom in the spring, they are normally pruned after they flower. If you prune them now, you will be snipping off their flower buds because they are produced on old wood from the previous year’s growth.

Some more examples of plants that do not need to be pruned now are forsythia, Bradford pear, quince, clematis and oakleaf hydrangea.

On the other hand, summer flowering plants generally are pruned in the dormant winter season. These plants normally have flower buds that are produced on new wood that grows during the current season. New growth begins in the spring on these plants, so avoid heavy pruning during the late summer and fall to protect blooms. Examples of some of these plants include crape myrtle, camellia, barberry and butterfly bush.

Also, pruning ornamental shrubs and trees in the fall can cause a flush of regrowth that should be avoided. New tender growth could be susceptible to cold injury, and this could cause damage to the plant. For example, peach trees would never be pruned from October to January.

With all that said, remember most woody plants do not need to be pruned in the fall, but perennials that have stopped growing and are returning to their dormant stages can be cut down to the ground.

Perennials like asters, black-eyed Susan, coneflower, yarrow and salvia can be trimmed back to the ground. Wait until the stems of your iris, daylily and hostas turn brown and are falling over before you trim them back. They are storing all of their energy into their bulbs and rhizomes.

Instead of focusing on trimming everything back at this time, plant a new shrub or tree. There are many choices to choose from. Look at the spectacular color of the many maples, birches, crape myrtles and gingko trees as you ride around town.

Oakleaf hydrangreas and forthergilla shrubs have beautiful fall foliage. Now is still a good time to plant them before the soil temperatures start to cool off. Make sure they are watered and mulched and as they go into slumber for the winter.

Remember if you have a questions about pruning your plants in a timely manner, give us a call at the Hall County UGA/ Extension office. Our offices can provide the answer to your pruning questions.

As Thanksgiving approaches, give thanks to the many beautiful wonders of nature that we see. Winter is just around the corner, so enjoy the fall colors around us during this special holiday time.

Wanda Cannon 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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