Spring Update: Time to Start Pruning!
By David Silver on March 14, 2012, 8:57pm
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With the tempertures running above normal, we are way ahead of where we would normally be in the gardening season. Its time to start pruning chores. The shrubs are way ahead of schedule. Here is a list of some common "Winter" pruning chores that should be done without delay.
1. Roses: the roses are budding out already. We are at least 2 weeks ahead of where we should be this time of year. The first step is to clear out all the dead wood. Concentrate on this project first without getting distracted. Remember that the goal for climbers is to create a lot of lateral branches. The finer the lateral growth, the more blooms you will have. For shrub roses cut canes to 6" to an outward facing bud and open up the rose bush to get good air circulation. Cut out weak and thin canes under 1". Even the "Easy Care" roses need some of this kind of pruning. For Old World Roses, remember that blooms occur on old wood (the previous season's growth) so prune very lightly or not at all. You still need to cut out the dead wood on the Old World roses. With the roses budding out now, it should not be difficult to distinguish the dead wood.
2. Japanese maples: Concentrate on cutting out the dead wood. The dead wood will be white or gray. All the live wood will be red. It is urgent to get going on this project as once the Japanese maples leaf out, it will be difficult to get at this dead wood. You can also shape the Japanese maples at this time. Cut to 1/4" to the buds. Nearly every bud on a Japanese maple will be 'opposed'. That is, the buds will be exactly opposite to each other on each side of the branch. That is where you should cut. Sometimes, you will have a single bud. In that case, cut to a top bud, so that the growth will go in an outward direction.
3. Shrubs that should have been "Winter pruned". This includes fruiting trees, grapes, Rose of Sharon, Wisteria and other shrubs that need cold weather for pruning. Again, cutting out dead wood is the main chore. Consult a book on pruning for specifics. The American Horticultural Society has an excellent book on pruning.
4. Pines and other conifers. It is actually getting too warm to prune! Get at these without delay. Cut out dead wood. If needle growth has started, prune the largest needles first and then wait two weeks before pruning the lateral needles. Again, a good book on pruning will give you specifics.
5. Raspberries and blueberries: Cut raspberries to about 5 feet. Cut out dead wood. No more than 3 canes per plant! The canes should be a handswidth apart. With blueberries you want strong new growth. Any new growth coming from the base of the plant should be left alone. Cut to outward facing buds, like you do with roses and open up the plants. You will get more fruit that way. Remove weak branches (very thin) and encourage new growth.
6. Hydrangeas: The mophead hydrangeas bloom on current years growth so they can be pruned hard. This includes the hydrangea 'standards'. The lacecap hydrangeas bloom on the previous season's growth (old wood) so they should be pruned lightly: usually not more than 3 buds down from the terminal bud (that is, the bud at the very end). With the mild Winter we had, I would not expect that there will be much bud loss on the Hydrangeas so you can cut out the thin branches that are less than a pencil width in diameter. The "Endless Summer" hydrangeas bloom on both old and new wood. It is probably best to treat them like the mophead hydrangeas and cut them hard. It is a good idea to get going on this now.
7. Buddlhea (butterfly bush), Perovskia (Russian Sage): cut these very hard. If you do not cut them hard, then the bottom growth will get very woody and the flowers will not bloom until they reach the very top of the plant. To get these to bloom all over you should cut to within a few buds of the base. Really! Trust me! These are starting to show new growth, so start at the bottom and count up until you have reached at least 3 buds. If you are really timid, then 5, but no more! Cut to that point. there will be very little left of the plant.
8. Lavendar. It may still be too early to cut lavendar, but if you see new growth: then go ahead and cut it hard. Lavendar will also get very woody if you don't cut it hard. Cut at least 50% if not more down to the last 3 to 5 buds. Do not cut into any woody growth at the base where there no leaves from the previous season. If you are unsure about this, then it is best to wait a little.
Leave all Spring blooming plants alone except for cutting out dead wood. Dead wood can removed all year long and this should be a priorty. All Spring blooming plants are pruned after bloming.
Fall blooming plants are pruned in the Winter.
Most beginning gardeners are afraid to prune, but pruning makes for a better plant. Don't be timid. A good project for the beginner is to learn to recognize dead wood. Once you get going on the dead wood, your pruning skills will improve.
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