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Flowers, Fruits, and Frass

Local and statewide information on a variety of current topics for home gardeners and market growers.
Pinching Conifer Candles
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Pruning Series Part 4: Evergreens

Most evergreens need minimal pruning if planted in the right place and good health management is employed. However the benefits of pruning evergreens can be making a denser and fuller plant and limit the size. Like deciduous trees large limbs from evergreens should be removed during the dormant season. If you have broken, diseased or dead branches prune them out any time during the year.

Evergreens should be maintenance pruned in the late spring or early summer after new growth has formed. It is important to identify evergreens before pruning process can occur because some conifers have terminal buds only and some have terminal and lateral buds. Firs, spruces, yews, arborvitae and juniper have lateral and terminal buds and can be headed back (cut back to node but keep natural shape) or sheared and new growth will occur. While heading back, do no cut into the non-green portions of the tree. This area rarely pushes out new growth.

Needled evergreens like pines should be pruned once new flush of growth has hardened off in late May or Early June. The pruning process includes removing a portion of the candle without complete removal of the terminal bud. It is best to do this with finger pinching rather than cutting with clippers to avoid damaging expanding needles.

Winter may damage the top of your evergreen and you can address terminal bud loss at this time by replacing the lost leader with a lateral branch. Choose the lateral branch that you would like to replace the leader and use a splint to train it to grow vertically. Prune several lateral branches below to avoid competition. Once the branch stiffens and a growing season has passed the splint can be removed.

Broad leaf evergreens like holly, pyracantha and euonymus can be thinned (removing branch all the way back to the ground) or headed back.

Yews can be pruned twice a year because they produce a second flush of growth in the summer. Yews are generally grown as hedges and sheared but if they are headed back their natural shape can be quite attractive.

After pruning evergreens, place 2-3" of mulch under the base of the tree to help retain moisture and keep the roots cool. The largest issue with evergreens is they do not receive even watering and will become stressed in drought conditions. As always keep water off of the leaves and water at the base of the plant to prevent any disease occurrence.

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