57January 25, 2012

Well, it looks like the snow may stay on the ground. On the other hand, Monday’s rain may have washed it away. It’s a New England winter all right!

People often asked if there is anything they should be doing in the gardens at this time of the year. Pruning is one of the things that you can do at this time of the year. However, you cannot prune all of your plants at this time of the year. Any of the plants that bloom early in the spring should not be pruned back heavily at this time of the year. Spring flowering shrubs have already set their flower buds. If you heavily prune these plants back now, you will be removing many, if not all of the flower buds. Come the spring, the plants will spring back to life, yet you won’t get any flowers. With that being said, you can prune out any damaged branches and you can lightly prune to shape plants. You just need to realize that the more you prune spring flowering shrubs, the less flowers you will have come spring. The majority of the summer flowering shrubs can be pruned back early in the spring without have an effect on the flowering of these plants.

Winter is a good time to prune trees. Yes, you can remove the flower buds from your flowering trees if you prune them too heavily. The reason you prune in the winter is because it is so much easier to see the framework of the tree. You will find that many orchards prune their fruit trees in the winter months because it is easier to see the structure of the branches on the tree. If there are no leaves on the tree, it is easier to see branches that may be crossing over other branches. If this is the case, one of the branches should be removed to prevent damage to both branches from them rubbing against each other. Winter also allows you to see any branches growing at an odd angle. Any branches that grow horizontally out from the trunk will be weak branches that will, over time, break off from the weight of snow or ice build up on the branch. This type of branch could even break off in the high wind associated with a summer thunderstorm. At this time of the year you may find branches that have been damaged but the damage was concealed by all the leaves on the tree. Pruning out that damage will prevent future damage to the tree.
If you have to prune off large diameter branches or long branches, you should prune them off in small sections until you get the branch back to where you want it to be. If you attempt to cut off the whole branch at one time, you run the risk of the branches suddenly falling and tearing the bark off the tree where the branch meets the tree trunk. This would then leave you with a wound that may not heal causing insects and rot to get into the main part of the tree.

Pruning plants does tend to scare people. They are generally afraid that they are going to do it “wrong” and ruin the plant. The truth is there are very few times that the plant cannot recover from any “mistakes” you make in pruning. There is a wealth of books and online help that can teach you how to prune. Just remember that before the days of the internet and the widespread availability of books on the subject, people were pruning and the plants did just fine!

Well, that’s all for this week. I’ll talk to you again next week

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