Proper Pruning Practices

on Nov 17 in Yard News

The temperature is dropping and winter is creeping in. Plants are going dormant and we are putting up patio furniture and covering up the grills. After we finish cleaning up all the fallen leaves, it feels like we can take a break from yard work until the spring. What you may not know is that the winter can be an excellent time of year to do some much needed pruning. But where to begin? There are lots of different practices/rules that landscapers follow when pruning, and we hope this post will help give you some insight when doing it yourself.

First of all, what can I prune this time of year? To help answer this question, you need to consider the bloom times of your plants. Much like that turkey on Thanksgiving Day, some of us wait all year to enjoy the flowers on our favorite shrubs; and it can be devastating if you prune at the wrong time and remove those flower buds, messing up the blooming cycle (much like the time dad burnt the turkey during the Deep fry craze of 2004). Of course there are other factors to consider when determining the right time to prune your ornamental flowering shrubs, but in general here are the rules you want to keep in mind: If the plant blooms in the mid to late summer/fall, you would want to prune in the winter or early spring. Spring flowering plants need to be pruned after the blooms fade. These are often the most common plants that get pruned at the wrong time. Some examples of these plants would include azaleas, rhododendrons, camellias, magnolias, forsythia, dogwoods and redbuds.

Another rule to remember is that the fall is typically a bad time to prune. Pruning promotes new growth, which is not good for plants trying to go into dormancy. Also, the new growth is very susceptible to the falling nighttime temperatures/frost, which often kills this tender tissue and weakens the overall health of the plant. You definitely want to avoid pruning maples and birches during the fall as well. These plants often “bleed” and lose sap, which contains much needed sugars that these plant depend on to get through the winter months.
It’s also not the best practice to prune in wet conditions. This is because pruning when the plant is wet makes it easier for you to spread plant diseases. As we mentioned in our blog post about summer turf irrigation, viruses, fungi, and bacteria are easily transmitted through water. This, combined with the fact that you are essentially creating wounds and fresh entry points for plant diseases to infect the plant, is a recipe for disaster.

Typically plants are dormant, or at least not actively growing during the winter, so it is the best time to do corrective pruning. Corrective pruning is where you remove parts of the plant to improve its overall health, structure, and stability. Just remember the 3 D’s:

  • Damaged- Causes include injury during inclement weather, or rubbing due to cross branching, etc. Either way, parts of the plant that are damaged are going to suffer and also have wounds that leave the plant susceptible to disease.
  • Diseased- If there are signs of disease (spots, chlorotic/necrotic tissue, etc.), you can try to remove it by pruning out the infected parts of the plants.
  • Dead/Dying- Mostly for aesthetics, removing the dead and dying parts of the plant will improve the overall look, while also encouraging new growth in those areas once the old branches are gone.

If you are pruning a diseased plant, you want to keep in mind the importance of cleaning all pruning tools before cutting any other plants. Sanitation is key! You don’t want to do all that work trying to help a diseased plant, just to turn around and infect your other plants with those tools. When cleaning your pruning equipment, use hot soapy water, or a bleach solution, and scrub the cutting surfaces. Don’t forget to dry and oil the blades/moving parts, to prevent rust.

Written by Tony Gregory
Co-written and edited by Bobby Jones

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