By Mary Carol Sheffield, County Extension Agent for Agriculture and Natural Resources
February is here and love is in the air. Love for pruning that is, so sharpen your pruning shears! Many shrubs can be safely pruned beginning in February and into March and this is the ideal time to prune fruit trees in Paulding County. Don’t neglect this loving garden chore until your shrubs outgrow their beds.
Pruning in the correct manner and at the proper time can help to maintain the size and shape of your woody shrubs, improving their appearance and appealing to the artist in every gardener. Pruning also plays an important role in the health, productivity and wellbeing of woody plants. Three techniques that are important to understand if you are pruning your woody plants relate to tool sanitation, proper cutting technique, and pruning timing.
Always use clean pruning shears and be sure to sanitize the shears after each use. This is easily accomplished by either dipping them or wiping them down with 70% Isopropyl Alcohol. Some folks use a 10% bleach solution for this purpose, but it tends to have a corrosive effect on your tools over time.
There are two main types of cuts that you can make while pruning, one is called a “heading cut,” in which the tips of branches are removed. This type of pruning is used to create dense regrowth near the cut, as would be expected in a hedge. The other type of cut that is often used is a “thinning cut,” in which an entire branch is removed at its base on the main stem or along a larger branch. Thinning helps to allow more light to enter the shrub and is the preferred method if the pruning goal is to maintain a natural form.
Take care when making cuts to look for the raised ridge of bark around the shoot that you are pruning and make your cut so that that ridge is left intact. Tissue in this ridge of bark will help promote sealing of the cut, so if you damage it, you may be inviting problems. It is also important to cut close enough to this ridge not to leave a stub, which can also slow the sealing process. Use the three cut method to avoid damaging the bark around the cut. In the three cut method: 1. Cut a notch above where you plan to make your final pruning cut, 2. Cut the branch off above the notch to remove the weight of the branch-this will leave a stub, and 3. Make your final cut just above the branch bark ridge, leaving a clean opening that can begin to heal. After you make your cut, you may see some weeping from the area. Usually, this is only cosmetic and will not be a long-term problem.
Shrubs that should be pruned at this time of year include Crape myrtle, Beautyberry, Camellia, Japanese Barberry, Boxwood, Rose-of-Sharon, Nandina, Grandiflora Roses, and Fragrant Tea Olive.
Exceptions to the late winter/early spring pruning rule are spring flowering shrubs whose flowers are set the summer before, such as azaleas, hydrangeas, and forsythia, which should not be pruned until after they have flowered. So hold off on pruning the azaleas unless you do not mind losing your flower buds for the spring!
Remember, pruning done properly is a loving task for maintaining healthy and vigorous woody plants in your landscape! For more information on your lawn and garden, contact a Master Gardener Extension Volunteer or the UGA Extension Office at 770-443-7616 or look for us online at www.ugaextension.org/paulding.