Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Coastal and Tropical South
February, 2007
Regional Report

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Leave hydrangea buds intact, but don't be a prunophobic: cut away the rest of the mess.

Shears and Loppers and Saws, Oh My!

Why plants get pruned has more to do with the gardener than with the plant, unfortunately. Some people develop a serious fear of pruning anything. Maybe you think you'll kill the plant or stunt its growth, or you did a bit of tip pruning to a rose or azalea and nothing seemed to happen. Lots of people intend to prune, but never get around to it. The result is overgrown shrubs, misshapen trees, and fewer roses or plums. Keep your eye on the prize to overcome this phobia -- in this case, well-pruned, healthy plants. Success bolsters confidence, so take these positive steps to teach yourself proper pruning.

Principles of Cutting
Approach pruning with a vision in mind of the finished product. As you begin to remove things that are in the way of that vision, remember that you can always remove more in a second pass. It's not so easy to put back overcut branches!

Each pruning project begins with removing dead wood and thinning twiggy and cold-damaged areas. Evergreens benefit from annual tip pruning to shape them, but they also can be cut back by as much as one third in a year to control their height. In general, flowering shrubs should be pruned within one month after the flowers fade to preserve their buds for next year. Hydrangeas can also be pruned in winter to remove old flowers, so long as you cut only to the first bud below the flower.

* Prune branches and stems so the cut surfaces slant down and away from the center of the plant. This practice prevents water and debris from collecting in branch crotches and exposes the cut surface to more sunlight to speed the healing process.
* Many of our parents kept a can of pruning paint handy to cover every cut surface, but resist this tradition, please, or risk trapping rot-causing organisms inside.
* Bring along a tarp to collect cuttings; trust me, you'll drag the tarp out of the garden sooner than you'll get back and pick them up.

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