Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Coastal and Tropical South
February, 2009
Regional Report

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Flowering shrubs like camellia and azalea must be pruned within one month of flowering.

Pruning Time

While gardeners in the Tropics region are relishing the height of their "winter season," gardeners along the Southern Coasts are pruning something every week, weather permitting. Some landscape plants are different in the two regions, but both have evergreens, berried beauties, and early blooming shrubs that benefit from pruning now.

Whether it's hedges or single shrubs used as focal points, healthy growth in evergreens depends on annual pruning followed by fertilizer and fresh mulch. Maybe the yew by the front door has grown from a tall candle into a bushy blob that blocks the entry. Resist the temptation to simply cut away the blockage; instead, shear both sides now to re-balance its form.

Likewise, take a look at the entire hedge, not just the overgrown and stragglers. Prune the whole rank, even if it means taking a bit more off some than others. The key to keeping shrubs healthy for years is annual shaping to keep new growth coming and prevent thinning near the ground or inside the shrubs.

To keep a hedge thick or rehabilitate a ratty bunch, you can prune and fertilize up to three times a year between now and September. And don't forget the "slant rule:" keep the base of the shrubs in a hedge a bit wider than the top, so sunlight can hit those leaves and enable new growth to continue.

Berried and Bloomed Out
Nandina and holly are good examples of berried shrubs that often don't get pruned; flowering quince represents a group that is sometimes also overlooked. Why? Some find it hard to clip off berry clusters that might still feed the birds, and shrubs that bloom but briefly, like quince, can just get past the best "to-do" lists. Don't put this task off! Take the time to at least get the berries off, and also to cut down any nandina canes that have gotten raggedy, such as those with only a leaf cluster or two at their top. New growth comes from the bottom on these classic southern shrubs, and older, unproductive canes can stifle it.

Given that we've pruned everything else, it's time to consider the star of February's efforts -- shrub roses. This task can seem onerous, as it means cutting off much of last year's growth, but trust me, it needs to be done to keep the shrub roses in their space, provide air circulation around and within the plant to forestall fungus, and promote flowering.

Except for climbing roses, everybody gets at least a haircut, and although it may hurt your feelings to do, some must be stripped to their main canes. Here's the basic process: Cut the entire shrub rose down by half, or if it is particularly vigorous, by two-thirds, then select the canes you want to nurture. Choose 3 or 5 of the healthiest and remove old, woody canes as well as those that are merely shoots. Clip off the twigs along the canes and most of the side branches. One last note: the way you prune makes a difference: try to always cut above a bud that faces the outside of the plant to direct new growth outward, and slope cuts so water sheds away from the plant's center.

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