The Daily Southerner, Tarboro, NC

The Garden Guide

February 22, 2013

"Ask A Master Gardener"

TARBORO — Most sources say that February is the time to prune many shrubs, the focus of this week's column. This will answer your questions before you even asked.

Because fall and early winter pruning would reduce winter hardiness in your shrubs, late winter, while the plants are dormant, is the best time to prune and shape your shrubs before the new growth emerges in the spring. This does not pertain to spring-flowering shrubs (azaleas, rhododendrons, spiraea, forsythia, pieris and daphne) so anything you expect to bloom in the spring should not be pruned until after the flowers fade. Your evergreen hedges and foundation shrubs are hearty enough to take a good pruning this

month to encourage new growth.  To maintain a good height and width, cut back by no more than one-third and avoid any drastic pruning. Before you start, take time to sharpen your loppers and pruning shears and also make sure your power hedge trimmers are sharp, because after a while they become dull and tend to tear your limbs instead of cutting them.

Here are some tips from writer Lee Reich (The Pruning Book) and a list of common shrubs and trees to prune in late winter or early spring.

Pruning deciduous plants in the winter promotes fast regrowth in the spring, as most plants are dormant during the winter. It's also easier to see the shape of deciduous plants in the winter, since their foliage is gone.

• Prune on a mild, dry day.

• When pruning, first prune out dead and diseased branches.

• Then remove the overgrown and smaller branches to increase light and air at the crown of the tree.

• In general, your goal is to keep the branches that develop or maintain the structure of the tree.

• Cut branches at the node, the point at which one branch or twig attaches to another.

Pruning trees and shrubs may be the most feared act in gardening. But, remember that Nature is the Great Pruner. For example, when trees grow too close together, branches die as they compete for sunlight and airflow.

Pruning is a vital part of gardening.

Consider these three reasons:

To Thin: Remove to improve. Thinning is about cutting out all dead,

diseased, and injured parts to let in more air and light. Most important, thinning prevents confusion of a plant's structural line and enhances it health.

To Reduce: In Nature, most plants we grow are in splendid isolation, trying to spread unnaturally fast. Our job is to prevent certain shrubs and trees from outgrowing their position in a yard. Judicious reducing helps plants develop into sound structures without over-stressing their limbs. Also, maximum flowering and bountiful fruit are only possible by pruning.

To Amputate: It sounds harsh, but severe pruning is necessary to restore older trees and shrubs to better health. Most plants are amazingly forgiving with experimentation. Think twice, cut once, and watch carefully. Your plants will tell you in their own way how to do better next season.

To learn when it's best to prune a specific tree or shrub, there's a

calendar chart at this site listing shrubs  from Abelia to Yew:

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The Garden Guide
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