Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Southern California Coastal & Inland Valleys
February, 2004
Regional Report

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When trimming and restringing boysenberries on their trellises, you can reap new plants from tips that have rooted.

Time to Prune

This is the big month for pruning deciduous fruit and nut trees. Basic guidelines for winter dormant pruning are to remove crowded or crossed branches, to open the center for good light exposure and airflow, to repair structural weakness, and to remove vigorous vertical-growing branches (watersprouts). The height or width of the tree can also be reduced. Take care to not leave stubs or to overprune in any single year, as this encourages excessive new foliage and less fruit. Here are some general guidelines:

Pruning citrus trees requires a different approach: remove entire branches at the trunk. Heading branches back -- cutting off only portions -- removes more of the wood that could have blossomed and set fruit this coming season, and stimulates more bushy growth. However, if you need to shorten branches that are too tall for the area or your easy harvest, this is precisely what you should do now. I had to do this last year to remove 10 feet of dead and rangy growth, and this year I had lots of choices of new vigorous growth to thin for a revitalized tree.

Cane Berries
Cane berries are most easily pruned when all their leaves have fallen off and the buds have just begun to fill out and show their light pink color. The dead canes and the plant structure are then quite apparent, and the thorns are more easily avoided. When clipping away all the dead growth, be careful not to injure the new pink shoots at the crown. Then prune each strong cane from the root crown just above its point of attachment to the top horizontal support of the trellis.

Prune side shoots just after the third strong bud. Spread and re-anchor the upright canes evenly along the trellis in order to keep the area open for good ventilation and promote the even spread of developing foliage.

This pruning and trellising procedure will encourage strong growth of fruiting vines but not of unnecessary foliage. Although cutting down all dead and growing vines at the soil level in a clean sweep is an easy approach, it encourages weak bushy growth with only a few berries setting very low on the plant.

An acceptable variation of this easier approach would be to clean-cut half of the berry vines every two years. Then, you'll always have a year-old patch to bear fruit the following summer, and can clear the other patch by clean-cutting.

Prune grapevines after all the leaves have dropped. The choice of pruning approach depends on the specific varieties and trellis structures you have.

Pencil-sized grape cuttings with two sets of nodes can be used to start new vines. To identify which end is which, cut the bottom (root end) of the cane flat and the top (foliage end) at a slant. Bury the lower set of nodes in the soil. Don't be concerned if new foliage doesn't appear from the upper nodes until very warm weather, as the strong root system develops first.

Prune crape myrtles severely to force growth of new flowering wood. Prune dormant deciduous flowering vines and shade trees. Wait to prune spring-flowering ornamentals until just after they bloom; pruning now will remove the wood that already has bloom buds set inside, stimulate frost-tender new growth, and possibly remove wood that was not truly dead.

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