Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Southern California Coastal & Inland Valleys
January, 2009
Regional Report

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Prune roses down to sturdy canes with top bud facing outward.

Winter Dormant Pruning

Now through mid-February is still prime time to prune roses and deciduous fruit trees. However, some gardeners -- especially beginners -- prefer to delay a bit, waiting until the new green sprouts indicate exactly where to trim. If you're one of these folks, be sure to accomplish the task soon thereafter -- certainly before the shoots grow to 3" long -- so you can still see what choices can be made before they're camouflaged by too much foliage.

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 branches (waterspouts).

An excellent, inexpensive, and easily-used disinfectant for pruning tools is rubbing (isopropyl) alcohol. Wipe shears with the alcohol after pruning every few cuts to avoid spreading any diseases. Clean the blades extra well before moving to another tree or bush.

Specific guidelines for fruit trees also include:

1) Reducing height or width. However, take care to not remove more than 1/3 of the tree in any single year, as this encourages excessive new foliage and less fruit since the tree is trying to make up for what it lost. Note for summer after you harvest the fruit: trim down to the height you want. I break all the branches taller than I can reach, and let the tree reabsorb the energy from the broken sections; then trim them completely when the foliage is dry. This encourages new sprouting of growth lower down the tree for the rest of the summer and fall, resulting in lots more branching within easy reach for the next year's crop.

2) Allow pruning cuts to dry naturally. The tree will naturally form a protective callous, even on cuts larger than 2 inches in diameter. 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.

3) Pruning citrus trees requires a different approach: remove entire branches at the trunk. Heading branches back -- cutting off only portions -- will remove wood that would have blossomed and set fruit this coming season and stimulate more bushy growth.

Specific guidelines for roses also include:

1) Prune established roses even if they have not lost all their leaves. They should be forced into dormancy so they can recoup energy for the next year's growth.
2) Prune branches at a 45-degree angle just above a bud that faces outward or toward a side that needs filling in.
3) Remove and destroy (don't compost) any leaves that have dead or diseased portions.
4) Old-fashioned roses with a single bloom cycle in the spring, as with climbers, should be pruned following that bloom cycle.

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