Extension Educator, Horticulture
A few warm days and gardener's hands start twitching in search of activity. Take some time now to sharpen your tools and sharpen your memory on how to prune. Pruning is probably the most intimidating gardening practice. But it's just like riding a bike: there is only so much time you can spend learning the theory, then you just have to do it. The following plants should be pruned in February or early March before the buds open.
Grapes–Remember when pruning grape vines, the grapes are produced from the buds of one year old canes that 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 grape vine 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).
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. The canes that produced last year 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 early summer on the canes that produced last fall, therefore remove these canes after they produce early this summer.
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. Harvesting also 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 until the first of March. Remove any dead, diseased or broken branches. Sterilize tools with alcohol or bleach afer each cut.
Branches should not grow into each other or rub. If two branches of about equal size form a narrow "V" attachment, then eliminate one of the branches. The strongest branch attachments form 40 to 90 degrees angles with the trunk.
Shade trees–Be sure not to leave branch stubs. The branch collar (that wrinkled area where the branch attaches to the trunk) should be left intact. Wound paint or dressings are largely cosmetic and not recommended. Topping trees is unhealthy and also just down right ugly. Prune only the branches that you can reach standing on the ground. Leave the climbing to the professional arborists. None of us climb as well as we used to and we don't bounce as well either.
Publications available for a small fee from the Champaign County University of Illinois Extension office:
Workshop on Biological Pest Control in Gardens and Landscapes workshop on Saturday March 6. Learn all about the good guys of the insect world and how they can help to control pests. To register call the Champaign Extension office at 217-333-7672.