Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Lower South
February, 2004
Regional Report

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Pyracantha produces berries on growth from the previous season, so overpruning will reduce berry production the following year.

Prune With A Purpose

Late winter, just before the arrival of new spring growth, is the best pruning time for many plants in the home landscape. Pruning is perhaps the least understood of all gardening chores. Incorrect pruning results in poor growth, improper growth, unnatural plant forms, and poor flower or fruit production.

Some folks prune a tree for the same reason some men climb mountains -- because they're there. We should prune with a specific purpose in mind, not just because it is pruning season. Proper pruning can shape plants, remove diseased or winter-damaged limbs, or shorten a plant that is outgrowing its space. Pruning improves flower production on roses and crape myrtles. It helps fruit trees stay vigorous and productive. Proper pruning can also help rejuvenate an old shrub.

Clipped hedges require regular pruning. The gardener looking for low maintenance should not establish a clipped or formal hedge, but instead direct growth in a more natural form. This is especially true of many native plants and certain non-natives, which look ridiculous when they are sheared up like a French poodle!

Spring-flowering ornamentals, such as azaleas, quince, and spirea, should be pruned after they bloom in spring. Summer-flowering shrubs and trees, such as althea, vitex, and crapemyrtle, and our deciduous shade trees respond best to late winter pruning. In areas where oak wilt is present, we prune susceptible oak species in winter, when the beetles that spread it are not active.

Berry-producing ornamentals, such as pyracantha and hollies (including yaupon and possumhaw), produce berries on the previous year's growth. A continual removal of a large percentage of the new growth on these plants eliminates potential berries. Plants may need a bit of light touch up work throughout the season. Gangly canes or shoots may be trimmed back whenever they appear to maintain a plant's form.

Fruiting Plants
Fruiting trees, vines, and bushes (even though they bloom in spring) are pruned in late winter so the plant can be prepared to carry and properly ripen a load of fruit.

Evergreens, such as junipers, ligustrum, photinia, and euonymus, may be lightly pruned throughout the year.

Roses that repeat bloom through the season should be pruned just prior to the spring growth in late February or early March. "Once bloomers," including many of the climbing roses, should be pruned after their spring or early-summer blooms.

To Seal or Not to Seal
Arborists generally agree that wound sealer products are not necessary. Over time the sealed surface cracks, which allows water through, slows drying of the interior wood, and promotes decay. Therefore wound sealers are generally discouraged except in the case of oak trees in oak wilt prone areas. These trees should be painted immediately (not hours later) after cuts are made to reduce the danger of oak wilt infection.

When removing large branches, the gardener should cut back to just outside the collar or raised ring where the branch attaches to the trunk. Cutting at this location eliminates stubs that promote decay of the heartwood, while also preventing cutting too close to the trunk, which increases wound size and delays healing.

So do some investigating before heading out with pruners in hand this winter. Find out what pruning your plants need, or don't need, then go out there and help shape a beautiful landscape around your home.

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