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Over the Garden Fence

Where gardeners come to find out what's happening out in the yard.

Time to Prune

Posted by Richard Hentschel -


Dormant pruning is always begun once the weather moderates and allows gardeners out in the home landscape without being bundled up and while we still have considerable cold weather. The days warm up letting us prune, while the nights are around 32 degrees. If you are a home orchardist, you know the clock is ticking now with warmer temperatures we have had. It is time to make sure those apple tree scaffolds are ready to go and be able to hold the fruit load later in the summer. With the mild winter, fruit growers may expect to see even more flowers becoming viable fruit this year that will need to be thinned.

Many landscape plants can be pruned while dormant and the job is even easier because they are dormant. Visualizing what you want to prune or how you want the plant to look like after pruning is easier since we can readily see the plant structure right now. Some of fine textured smaller foundation plantings of Spirea and Potentilla that have not been looking too good the last couple of seasons will benefit from rejuvenation pruning, creating a brand new plant in a single season. With some shrubs gardeners will not even miss a bloom show if the flowers are formed on current year wood. Sometimes when rabbit damage has been particularly bad, rejuvenation pruning is the easiest way to help the plant recover from severe rabbit feeding over the winter.

Other larger shrubs may be best pruned using the renewal method, removing a few of the larger, older stems at or very near the soil line. This kind of pruning leaves most of the shrub standing and if that shrub blooms on older wood, you get the see the blooms even this year. When you renewal prune, three benefits happen. The first is that the oldest wood is also the tallest branches, so the plant is naturally going to be a little shorter. Benefits two and three really go together. That older wood is the part of the plant that is most likely going to insects or disease in or on the wood. By removing those older branches, gardeners reduce the populations of insects like scale that have built up over several years. Older wood is less vigorous that newer wood and can be more disease prone too. Older wood is often a different color than newer, younger wood or has a heavier bark while younger wood the bark is still smooth. A good rule to remember is that where you prune is where the new growth will occur. If you keep this in mind when pruning, where you make the cuts will make a lot more sense whether you are using the rejuvenation or renewal method of pruning.

Pruning is going to be easier and less tiring if the pruning tools are clean and kept sharp. Young plants may only need a good pair of by-pass hand pruners to take care of any pruning they need. As landscape plants begin to mature, our tool of choice may need to be long handled pruners that give the leverage needed to prune a heavier woody branch. Once the plants have outgrown using long handled pruners, turn to your pruning tree saw.

Master Gardener are nearing the end of their training for 2012 and are anxious to begin to work with county residents by answering the many Spring gardening questions that are sure to come up as the gardening season begins .


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