Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Southern California Coastal & Inland Valleys
January, 2002
Regional Report

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Persimmons bear on second-year wood, so leave lots of twigs when pruning.

Pruning Fruit Trees and Berries

This is the big month for pruning deciduous fruit trees and cane berries. This job must be completed before the middle of February, when sap begins to run, buds swell and show color. Roses can wait until later.

Because I have so many trees, berries, and grapes to prune now, I wait to prune my roses last. It doesn't hurt them to wait, and it gets easier because the just-emerging buds tell me exactly where to cut, so I don't have to guess as much. For now, I just lop off all growth taller than 3 feet tall, with no special attention to where I cut. Later -- usually in the second half of February or even early March -- I do the fine-tuning pruning. (I'll talk about roses in the February 7 column.)

Guidelines for Dormant Pruning

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 (waterspouts). Height or width can also be reduced. Take care to not leave branch stubs or to overprune in any single year, as this encourages excessive new foliage and less fruit.

An excellent, inexpensive, and convenient disinfectant for pruning tools is rubbing (isopropyl) alcohol. Wipe shears with the alcohol after each pruning cut to avoid spreading disease. Clean the blades extra well before moving to another tree or bush.

Pruning cuts that are under one-and-a-half inches across don't need protective covering. Paint larger cuts with an off-white or sand-colored interior latex paint that has a matte finish, not a glossy one. Black asphalt substances or dark-colored paint, especially on south-facing surfaces, will concentrate the sun's heat -- baking and killing the tissue that the tree is trying to heal.

Citrus Trees

Pruning citrus trees requires a lighter hand: Remove only dead or crossing branches and, if necessary entire branches. Heading back healthy branches -- cutting off branch ends -- removes wood that would have blossomed and set fruit this coming season and instead stimulates more bushy growth. Note that pruning citrus can be done at any time of year, so there's no need for you to do it now if you have lots of other pressing tasks!

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 to not injure the new pink shoots at the crown and on the branches. Then prune each strong cane just above its point of attachment to the top horizontal support of the trellis. Prune side shoots just beyond the third strong bud. Spread and re-anchor the upright canes evenly along the trellis to keep the area open for good ventilation and to 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 the following season. 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.

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