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Good Growing

Getting a Handle on Pruning

Eeek!! It's October already. Where did September go? Wait where is 2017 going? Sometimes life seems to move so fast and we get wrapped up in the daily grind and we blink and the gardening season is coming to an end. There is still work to do in the garden – typical fall clean up, but there are definitely somethings you should avoid.

It's so easy to take a walk outside to do fall yard clean up and pull out a pair or pruners, the loppers, or a hand saw and prune up trees and shrubs. Pause the Pruners! Now is not a great time to be pruning trees and shrubs. If you prune now you'll encourage the plant to develop new growth that won't have time to harden off before winter. You should though make sure to remove any diseased, dead, or damaged branches.

The worst time to prune shrubs and trees is in the spring when they are leafing out or right after they've leafed out because of having used energy to do so and need time to "reboot" before having parts removed.

So when exactly should you prune trees? The best time is when they are dormant - February and March is a great time to prune. Oaks especially should only be pruned in winter when insect vectors that carry a disease called Oak Wilt are dormant. The reason for pruning at that time is that trees are more efficient at developing chemical walls to help block out decay at the location of the new pruning wound as growth resumes in the spring. Not to mention it's also easier to see what needs pruning when all the foliage is off the tree and you can get a better idea of what is going on.

When it comes to tree pruning I can't stress this enough - Know when to call a professional. I've seen a lot of pruning jobs done by those who didn't have the right knowledge and caused severe damage to the tree that wasn't correctable.

Shrubs are a different story and are much easier for homeowners to be able to do themselves as shrubs are much more forgiving. With shrubs, especially flowering shrubs – timing is more important so that you don't remove forming flower buds. I've received calls in the past asking why their lilac didn't bloom, my first question always is did you prune it in the fall? Answer was always yes. Lilacs as an example, are spring bloomers, which means they form flower buds on wood developed last year. If you prune in the fall you remove that wood and that means no flowers.

Here are basic guidelines to when to prune flowering shrubs:

  • Spring bloomers (lilac, forsythia, deutzia, kerria, mockorange, viburnums, etc.) – prune right after they are finished blooming.
  • Anything that blooms June 15th and later will bloom on new wood and can be pruned in late winter/early spring before they leaf out.

The old adage of "measure twice, cut once" applies to pruning. Make sure to have the right tools for the job as well as knowing how to properly prune before making that first cut and know when to call in a professional.