If winter were a day, then February would be its afternoon. Amazingly, the weather has turned docile and mild. Let’s hope it lasts. Because, if it does, then that means you can get some outside work done…and, kill two birds with one stone, take down the Christmas lights and also do some pruning.
Late February to early March is the time to prune many (not all) kinds of deciduous shrubs, shade trees and some fruit trees. So, if you’re a bit rusty about just how to go about pruning, or if you’d like some reassurance of your methods, as well as some explicit directions, then I strongly recommend purchasing a pruning manual.
YOU REALLY NEED A VISUAL GUIDE to follow pruning directions, which are not easy to understand or visualize just from words. A pictorial guide has good labeleddiagrams showing just where and how to make cuts. Probably one of the best and newest texts is Pruning Made Easy by Lewis Hill and published by Storey Publishing of North Adams, MA 01247. Its ISBN number is 978-1-58017-006-2 and it sells for $19.95. It is readily available new and used at bookstores and on line or you can order directly from Storey by calling 1-800-441-5700. Or, visit their website at http://www.storey.com.
This text is one of the very best I’ve seen for giving well illustrated directions on pruning every kind of plant…grapevines, Clematis and other vines, roses, fruit trees, small fruits, evergreens, bonsai, shade trees, and even house plants. My argument for urging you to get a well labeled and illustrated book on pruning is that it gives you confidence that you are doing the job correctly. With self-assurance, you’re more apt to go out and get the job done. You’re not frustrated because of fear of doing something wrong.
My point is that if you’re apprehensive that you might be pruning a branch or twig incorrectly, chances are you won’t do it at all. In which case, the time-window of opportunity goes by, and later, in desperation, when things look straggly or overgrown, you finally go ahead and chop things off, probably incorrectly, and certainly at the wrong time of the year.
Most of us wouldn’t think of baking a cake or making an elegant entree without consulting a cookbook. The product just won’t come out right if you “wing” your way through without following a recipe. The ‘product’ of a pruning job is something which is long-lasting and in many cases, might even have important consequences. So, it’s not a hit or miss job to be done just any old way. At least, not if you want your plant to stay healthy, robust, productive and attractive.
I can tell you, in general, what to prune now and what not to prune now. Rather than list page after page of specific recommendations, here are a few of the most important. For instance, now is the time to prune grapevines, but not dogwoods.
Also, I can tell you that now (late winter/early spring) is the time to prune all shade trees except maples, which are better pruned after they have leafed out. Otherwise they will leak maple syrup sap! Oaks especially can be pruned now, but be careful! They should be pruned only at the very minimum and only at this time of the year…except for when they are very young and may require some shaping. If oaks are pruned in early summer, a disease organism that causes oak wilt is likely to invade fresh wounds made in the warm weather. Others to be pruned now are apple trees, but wait to prune peaches until just before bloom and during bloom. Spring-flowering trees like dogwood, redbud and magnolias are pruned right after they have finished flowering, not now. Why? Because you will be ruining this year’s display!
In fact, when plants are grown especially for their lovely display of flowers, then it is important that you prune them at the right time of the year, else you may be cutting off flower buds. Here are the rules for them.
If the plant blooms before the end of June, it is generally referred to as a spring-flowering shrub or tree. These are pruned right after they have finished flowering. If the plant blooms after June, it is called a summer-flowering plant. These are pruned now in February-March, the same time as for shade trees.
Finally, if pruning is to be done correctly, the right kind of tools must be used. Carpenter’s saws and hacksaws just don’t work. They will botch the job and drive you to exasperation. So, do buy hand clippers, lopping shears and pruning saws. Prune what you can just by standing on the ground. Don’t attempt to climb limbs or ladders to reach things. It is just too easy to fall and be injured, perhaps permanently. Pruning poles are useful for hard-to reach limbs but can be awkward to maneuver and frustrating to handle.
To make life easy, get yourself the Pruning Made Easy (A Visual Guide: see above) Spend some time reading it and be ready to sprint out the door with enthusiasm (and your right tools). With some luck, you won’t need a snow shovel to work your way to the plants!
Copyright © 2012 Margaret Balbach