Extension Educator, Horticulture
We usually have a long window of opportunity to do many of our late winter chores. We can pick the right day to suit our comfort level. This year may be an exception, with our earlier warm weather many plant buds are ready to explode with the next warm period. Don't delay on any dormant season activities. So bundle up and head outside for these items on your "to do" list.
Cut back ornamental grasses - Ornamental grasses swaying in the breeze add interest to the winter garden. However in order for them to look good this growing season the dead leaves and stalks should be cut back to about 4 inches before growth resumes. The cool season grasses such as Feather Reed Grass (Calamagrostis acutiflora) green up quickly in spring. The popular Miscanthus cultivars are warm season grasses so you have a little more time to prune them.
Prune grapes - Remember when pruning grape vines, the grapes are produced from the buds of one year old canes which are about 1/4 to 1/3 inches in diameter and are reddish brown. When properly pruned, 80 to 90 percent of the grape wood is removed every year. Now you know why people can make so many grapevine wreathes.
Grape vines with a main trunk and four canes are often trained to a two-wire trellis. Before pruning, select four strong lateral one-year-old canes (arms) that are close to the trellis and mark with a ribbon or colored tape. The largest and heaviest canes are not good fruit producers.
Tie the four arms to the trellis. Choose four more lateral canes to become the arms for next year. Remove everything else. Prune off the ends of this year's arms so that 10 to 15 buds remain on each of the arms and only two buds are left on the renewal spurs (next year's arms).
Prune red raspberries - Remove all short and weak canes. The large remaining canes are thinned to 4 to 8 inches apart. The canes are cut back to 5-6 feet tall or if no support is provided 3 to 4 feet tall. Last year's productive canes should be removed anytime after harvest or remove them now. Canes are productive only one year and the new growth will produce the next year's harvest. The exception are everbearing raspberries such as 'Heritage' which produce a second crop in the spring on the canes that produced last fall.
Prune fruit trees - Peaches and apples especially require annual pruning to remain productive. If left unpruned, fruit production tends to be limited to the top and outer portions of the tree and every other year. Harvesting becomes a real chore left to the giants of the family. Peaches are pruned just before bloom and during bloom.
Apples should be pruned now before the buds show green tips.
Dormant oil spray can also be applied to apples to control San Jose scale, eggs of European spider mites and eggs of rosy apple aphid. Spray only when temperature will not drop to freezing for 24 hours following spray application.
Peaches should be sprayed now with lime sulfur if peach leaf curl has been a problem. Peach leaf curl appears as a thickening, curling and puckering of leaves. Fruits become swollen and deformed. Fruit may be hollow with thick spongy flesh. Dormant fungicide spray on peaches is critical since it is the only spray that will control this disease. Lime sulfur may also be used on raspberries to control anthracnose. Be sure to read and follow all label directions.
Publications available for a small fee from the University of Illinois Extension office: Growing Small Fruits in the Home Orchard; Growing Tree Fruits in the Home Orchard.