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LET’S TALK GARDENING – Pruning Is All About Timing

By Doug Hensel
Doug's Blog

TO PRUNE OR NOT TO PRUNE?  –  THAT’S A GOOD QUESTION!

A couple of years ago I wrote a blog on this very subject. I think it is only fitting that I write on this topic once again. It seems that every day I get customers asking about pruning. For some reason, people see their plants, especially the deciduous plants, in a different view this time of year. Or, having to spend so much time cooped up in the house because of this pandemic that they yearn to get outside and work on their landscape for something to do. Whichever the case, it’s all about time and proper pruning techniques to keep your plants vigorous and healthy for the upcoming growing season.

Here we are in late January and so far our weather hasn’t been too bad with our temperatures staying close to normal for the month. We have had enough cold days so far this winter that all of our outdoor plants are now in a dormant state which is a very important factor to know before considering doing any pruning. And, we continue to have weekly rainfall with very little, if any, freezing rain or snowfall. And, this is good for our plants.

Before you start to prune be sure to have a clear purpose in mind for wanting to prune a particular plant. The three most obvious reasons to want to prune a shrub or tree are:

  • Controlling the size of the plant
  • Maintaining the plants’ shape
  • Improving the plants’ appearance

To help answer the pruning questions correctly, I always keep the Virginia Tech ‘A Guide to Successful Pruning, Shrub Pruning Calendar’ handy. And, I keep plenty of copies available for handouts to customers.

HERE ARE A FEW DO’S AND DON’TS WHEN IT COMES TO PROPER PRUNING

  1. Hold off on pruning any evergreen plants, such as boxwoods or hollies. Evergreen plants need their foliage to stay healthy through the winter. The best time to prune evergreens is around the first of March.
  2. Now is a good time to do some thinning of some deciduous shrubs and trees. Thinning is the complete removal of some branches back to the main trunk or to the main branch. The deciduous hollies, butterfly bushes, roses, and the summer blooming hydrangeas, like Limelight or Annabelle, can be pruned back at this time.
  3. Do not prune spring-blooming plants such as azaleas, rhododendrons, camellias. The time to prune spring-blooming plants is just after they finish blooming.

Here is a shortlist of favorite plants that can be pruned this time of year:

  • Barberry
  • Beautyberry
  • Burning Bush
  • Butterfly bush
  • Liriope
  • Knock Out roses
  • Rose of Sharon

Here is a shortlist of favorite plants NOT to prune now but to wait until after the plant finishes flowering:

  • Azaleas
  • Forsythia
  • Gardenia
  • Spring-blooming Hydrangea
  • Lilac
  • Loropetalum
  • Spirea

Bottom line … for some plants pruning is not necessary. Matter of fact, there is a growing gardening trend to let plants grow naturally with unaltered growth. Now, this trend can only work if you plant the right plant in the right location taking into account the ultimate growing dimensions.

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17 thoughts on “LET’S TALK GARDENING – Pruning Is All About Timing

  1. can someone trim or prune my Chinese maple tree that has gotten too bushy. Do you do that kind of work.?

  2. When is te best time to prune or cut back long branches that hangover the sidewalks on a dogwood tree. I think it is a miniature dogwood.
    Thank you

  3. Rick,
    Thank you for your question. Yes, you can remove this major branch off the dogwood tree now. Typically, dogwood trees don’t want to be pruned. But, in your case it seems that you want to remove just one branch. Just make sure that it is a nice, clean cut. No need to apply any type of pruning sealant to the wound. Hopefully, you have many flower buds on all the remaining branches to enjoy this spring.

  4. Cecilia,
    Good Morning. As a company, we do not offer any landscape services. We outsource all landscape requests like this to a very reputable landscaping firm that we trust. If you are in the Richmond area then you can contact NATURAL PROGRESSION LANDSCAPING for assistance. You can go to their website naturalprogressionlandscaping.com or you can call 804 – 332 – 2309. Doug

  5. Thank you-yes lots of little buds on all other branches. Should I use a tree sealant in the Spring?

  6. Walt,
    Good Morning.
    Great questions. Thank you.
    The best time to prune an apricot tree is late March when the tree is just beginning to break dormancy and begin to grow. It seems that by waiting until then that the tree is active and the pruning wounds heal more quickly.
    As for a crape myrtle tree. Anytime now is fine. IF IT NEEDS TRIMMING. Just don’t do CRAPE MURDER to your tree. On a warmer, sunny day look at your crape myrtle. Bring down the “head” head of the tree and round it up. At the same time you can thin out some of the smaller, weaker branches. And, always remove all sucker growth that comes up from the base of the tree. I hope I explained myself well enough to you on pruning the crape myrtle. Doug

  7. Hi Doug, I have Japanese maple which is rather big ~15 ft. I would like to prune it. Is good idea to prune it at all? How many branches I can remove? The stump is about 3ft and 3-4 big branches coming from it. Thank you

  8. Mykhaylo,
    Good Morning. I find Japanese Maple trees to grow very artistically. Is there something about it being 15′ tall that you don’t like? I am not a big fan of altering the growing habit of Japanese Maple trees with pruning – unless there is a strong reason for doing so. Now, with this said, if you feel a need to trim it down then you want to do so while it is in this dormant state and you can see the whole skeletal structure of the tree in order to make good judgement on how to trim it back and where you want to remove whole branches in order to give it a better shape. Good luck, Doug

  9. Good Morning,
    We have two Bartlett pear trees that need to be pruned. We live in Brunswick, MD. Do you know anyone in the area that has experience with that. So far we had no luck. And what would be the best time to have this done?
    Thanks.
    Ruxandra

  10. Dean,
    Good Morning. February or March are two good months to use for pruning St. John’s Wart. Doug

  11. Ruxandra,
    No, I am sorry but I don’t know anyone in the Brunswick, MD area. I would advise that you contact your county extension service for information. You want to have this work done while the trees are in a dormant state so you would want this work done sometime between now and the end of February. Good Luck. Doug

  12. Should I prune a fig tree and, if so, when is the best time and which branches should I focus on? Thank you very much. Sergio

  13. Sergio,
    Good Afternoon. The timing of your question is perfect. Now is the time to trim up your fig trees. I would recommend no more than 1/3 its size now. Also, if you would like to try – you can take some of your cuttings and root them. Fig trees seem to root easily.

  14. I’m glad I asked. Should I target any particular branches as I’m pruning? Do I disturb any of the main structure – the tree has two or three main trunks and a few minor ones coming from the ground? Not sure how to handle it overall. Thanks for the help!

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