Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

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

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Tip pruning young trees like this pecan establishes their form for life.

Sharpen your Snips

Late July is a fine time to do some pruning to encourage new growth on shrubs and trees. The only exception to this practice is flowering shrubs like azaleas that have already set their buds for next year.

Thickening Evergreens
There's nothing sadder than the sight of an old hedgerow gone thin. Leaves only sprout from the tops, the branches are naked and you can see through what should be dense with foliage. To keep this from happening to your evergreens, tip prune once or twice each year. Yes, young shrubs should be tip pruned to shape and keep them vigorously growing, and to avoid the naked shrub look. But for the best looks in mature hedges, continue the annual ritual in July. After you take 2 to 4 inches off each branch, try rooting some of the cuttings. Roll the end of the cutting in rooting hormone and stick it in a small container of potting soil and ground bark mixed 1:1. Many evergreens root well from summer wood, which is usually supple enough to bend without snapping easily.

Shaping Young Trees
Well-shaped adult trees seldom happen naturally, and you cannot wait until they're mature to do the pruning that creates that beauty. The process starts with the tree purchase, selecting trees with strong trunks and at least a few strong side branches. Most trees should be pruned when planted, but few people actually do enough. By the second summer, though, trees can show strong upright growth with oddly placed side branches when you're hoping for a more subtle arrangement. Tip pruning such a tree now and removing a few misdirected minor branches can shift growth to a more desirable form. You are the director, and shaping young trees allows them to maintain a strong shape as they mature and grow out of pruning range for most gardeners. Some of these tip prunings may root, depending on the species.

Deadhead Ritual
Another bit of pruning to do now is removing spent flowers from every flowering plant in your garden. Annuals, of course, will continue to flower unless you allow them to go to seed. But some perennials and many roses will also rebloom if you remove the old flowers and at least the bit of stem between the flower and first set of true leaves below it. Even if the perennials do not continue to bloom, they'll be neater without old stems flopping out of the clump and the crown won't waste time supporting the spent growth. Once-blooming roses will put on more new growth if their aged blooms are removed. Roses that do bloom again and again will do so more readily if you cut them back to a 5-fingered leaflet below the flower. That includes the popular Knockout roses, which are hard to stop from flowering in many situations. Not all cape jasmine have this remontant quality, but the browned flowers should be removed since they can host pythium fungus, a common and destructive pathogen. Mophead hydrangeas are the exception to the deadheading ritual of summer in many gardens. Leave them on the plant to age naturally and continue to decorate the scene. Reblooming hydrangeas perform best when the old flowers are removed, but I'll confess that I leave some on the backside of the border. Their changing hues of green and tan are just cool.

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