Time to Prune

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Pruning is a major topic of discussion this time of year. Pruning is a gardening practice that is frequently misunderstood. Pruning involves the selective removal of specific plant parts for the benefit of the entire plant. Pruning should be viewed as a regular part of maintenance to assure healthy plants. Many gardeners view pruning as an annual spring ritual that must be done whether it is needed or not. Other folks prune plants simply when it is convenient. For many of the plants in our southern landscape this timing is fine. Correct timing of pruning is a key factor for to encourage healthy trees and shrubs.

Most horticulturists agree that late winter or early spring is one of the best times to prune. It is best to prune summer flowering trees and shrubs and most evergreen shrubs at this time. As a general rule prune spring flowering trees and shrubs immediately after flowering. If these are pruned in late summer or winter many flower buds will be removed. Fruit trees are pruned in mid February through March. Fruit and berry producing plants benefit from shaping again after fruit production.

Correct pruning includes eliminating dead, dying, diseased, damaged, or dangerous wood as needed. This corrective pruning can eliminate the need for severe removal of limbs that can weaken plants. Gardeners often wait until a plant has outgrown its intended space before they decide to prune. Sometimes this type of pruning is needed but it is avoidable with careful planning. Training should be done of young trees and shrubs during the first four to five years after planting. Shaping them early in their lives helps maintain a natural form and reduces the need for frequent pruning. Each plant species has an individuality that distinguishes it from other plants and should be considered before pruning. Hedges maintained in tight shapes require more pruning than hedges maintained in their natural form.

Get your pruning tools cleaned, oiled and the edges sharp and ready to use. Dull pruners, loppers, or saws mash limb wood and increase the chance for disease infection. Dull equipment also makes the job more time consuming and encourages blisters. Wooden handles should be painted or regularly treated with oil. Purchasing high quality pruning equipment can allow you to replace blades and continue using the tools year-round. It is usually less expensive in the long run to purchase quality tools that last for many years than to purchase cheap tools that last only a short time.

The best time to prune a specific plant should take into consideration the flowering time of the plant as well as weather conditions. Wound closure is quicker when the pruning does not disturb growth cycles. Begin by cutting back liriope, pampus grass, and cleaning up perennials. Next, prune roses, fruit trees and grapes. Wait until after flowering to prune azaleas, forsythia, quince and other spring flowering plants.

Improper pruning techniques can seriously damage or disfigure woody plants like crape myrtle. Seek sound horticulture information before assuming others have pruned with expertise. Virginia Cooperative Extension offers a great series called Guides to Successful Pruning. It includes Shrub Pruning Calendar http://pubs.ext.vt.edu/430/430-462/430-462.html; Pruning Deciduous Trees http://pubs.ext.vt.edu/430/430-456/430-456.html; Pruning Evergreen Trees http://pubs.ext.vt.edu/430/430-457/430-457.html; Deciduous Tree Pruning Calendar http://pubs.ext.vt.edu/430/430-460/430-460.html; Pruning Shrubs http://pubs.ext.vt.edu/430/430-459/430-459.html and more!