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Pruning The Garden in Winter

 

As for me, I believe that pruning is without doubt the biggest (dreadfulest) but most important job in the winter garden.  Young trees and shrubs need pruning then while the branches are bare.  The rules for pruning flowering shrubs depends on when they bloom.  Spring blooming shrubs (i.e. quince and viburnums that bloom on last year’s wood should never be cut in winter. But only after they bloom.  Summer and fall blooming shrubs such as Hydrangeas will bloom on new wood and can then be cut to the ground in winter.

General Pruning Rules

Be sure to use the right pruning tools for the job. Small pruning saws are best for larger branches.

The first step is to remove all dead wood at its base.  Then look to see if any branches are crossing and rubbing together. If you find crossing branches, cut one off leaving the best branch to grow.  The next step for almost all non-evergreen shrubs is to cut one-third of the oldest branches to the ground every three years.  This will ensure a new crop of younger shoots each year and help to eliminate pests that often attack the old wood first. A perfect example of this is the lilac.  A common mistake I have seen is to cut some shrubs into forms that are unnatural to their basic shape.  The worst offenders try to prune forsythia into shapes such as globes or rectangles.  There again, give forsythias room to spread and follow the three-year cycle.  If you have a small area buy a small shrub to fill it.  There are a few slow-growing shrubs that do not need pruning at all, as far as its shape is concerned.  The most common plant in our area is the Star Magnolia (Magnolia stellata).  Except for dead wood and rubbing branches leave it alone.

Pruning Winter Evergreens

Rhododendrons are and azalea

Pruning rhododendrons and azaleas and is a whole different story.  There is a difference between them relating to pruning, other than flower, leaf, and shrub size.   The difference is where the flower buds are located on the branch and when to prune.  Rhododendron flowers are found just above the leaf rosette and pruning consists of removing the old flowers, after spring blooming, while not hurting the leaf rosette just below it. That is where next year’s buds will form. Aside from removing dead wood, never prune them in winter for fear of removing their spring flowers.

Azaleas, on the other hand, form new buds all along the branch, so they will tolerate some light winter pruning.  Just remove any out-of-place branches, but not all the way back. Then you will have new flowers next spring.

Remember both plants require acidic soil.  If your plants start to look weak or yellow you need a soil additive. Copperas (hydrated ferrous sulfate) an inexpensive powder comes in small bags. Follow the instructions and add to a liquid mix for acid-loving plants.

Pruning Roses

Be sure to remove any dead or dying branches before you really start pruning living branches.

Roses are in a group by themselves. The main rule is to get rid of the old wood to discourage pests and encourage new growth (= more roses).  There are two groups of roses, one that blooms on last year’s wood and one that blooms on this year’s new growth. With both groups remove the oldest and weakest canes.  The oldest canes tend to be dark brown and woody. They need to go. The new-growth roses should have one-third of all old branches cut to the ground to keep the plant from pouring energy into maintaining old growth, and it should be done in the very early spring just when the buds begin to swell.  For a fuller-looking plant cut some of the inward-growing branches to open up the center.  For roses that bloom only on one-year-old wood (and I do not think there are many of these left) look at the stems.  They should be brownish-green.  Leave them and cut out anything older, but be sure to let new growth come along for next year. (Article: When is the Best Time to Prune Roses)

I also caution against the dreaded rose rosette virus.  (Article: Best Diseases-Resistant Roses) If you see any misshapen or oddly colored growth dig up the plant and burn it or put it into a large plastic bag to put in the trash. Even if everything looks okay douse your pruners with 70% Isopropyl Alcohol between each rose.  I encourage everyone to go online and see what bad growth looks like.

I also recommend going online to see the gorgeous new varieties of all the plants I have talked about, for example, Hydrangea paniculata images and a world of gorgeous shrubs will appear.

I hope I have given you enough work to keep you out of trouble and I haven’t even gotten to young trees.  So get going and happy gardening.

About Teri Keith


Garden columnist, Teri Keith, has gardened for over 50 years in her home state of Indiana. She served as a longtime IGC nursery manager specializing in annuals and perennials in Bloomington, Indiana and still gardens with passion. Each year she plants and maintains over 50 flower containers, many gardens, and a large collection of lilacs.

Spring Garden Tasks for a Happy Garden 2022

Spring is here! Officially it was March 20th, but I knew it was spring as soon as I saw the daffodils emerge. The hellebores have been glorious this year, but as their late-winter flowers slowly fade, new colors appear in the garden. The red stems of the peonies have started to peek out after being dormant all winter, the early magnolias are blooming, and the sweet fragrance of daphne lets my family know that spring has begun.

This is a wonderful time of year in the garden, with lots to do but so much to be thankful for. Yes, there are many tasks required, but most of those tasks are not burdensome. Instead, they are rather enjoyable because as gardeners, we are getting ready for a new growing season with lots of promises in store.

Refreshing Garden Containers

By refreshing the potting soil in your spring and summer containers, you will find that they perform much better!

One of my early tasks is to freshen up my many containers, of which I have 100+ scattered throughout the garden. It is a chore, no question about that, but I always like to add new potting mix to containers as needed. In some of the large pots, instead of removing all of the older potting mix, I take out about half and add new and mix the two together. In most of the smaller pots, if the mix has not been changed for a couple of years, I empty the old and add new. With the old mix, I use it around established trees and shrubs in the garden as a mulch.

My planting mix of choice is Black Gold Natural & Organic Potting Mix. Last year, we had some extremely hot days, and it was difficult to keep pots adequately watered. This year, I am going to add some Black Gold Just Coir to the mix because it should help with moisture retention when temperatures are high.

Click here for more spring-container reading:

Prune Early Spring-Blooming Shrubs

Prune spring-flowering shrubs, like this Viburnum, just after they flower to keep from removing next year’s flower buds.

As some of the early-blooming flowering shrubs, such as Forsythia, finish their blooming period, it is a good time to do some pruning if necessary. Remove any branches that tend to be older and weaker because this pruning will encourage new growth that will then bloom next year.

This has been a superb spring for Camellias, and I cannot remember a time when I have seen so many plants with so many flowers. As the flowers fade, they should be removed. Often plants grow much larger than we had intended when they were planted, and I think Camellias are a good example. After they bloom, it is an excellent time to do any necessary pruning.

Click here for more information about spring-bloomers:

Get Spring and Summer Vegetables Started

Now’s the time to plant spring herbs and vegetables, such as this dill, lettuce, and cilantro.

While it is too early to set out tomato plants and other summer vegetables, there are many cool-season vegetables that can be planted now. Vegetables, like lettuce, cabbage, broccoli, and cauliflower can be planted now, and garden centers should have a good selection available. Tomato seeds can be started indoors, and the plants will then be ready to set outside in late May or early June. Peas can be sown outdoors, both edible peas and flowering sweet peas. Sweet pea seeds have a very hard coating, and I have found that soaking the seeds overnight in a bowl of water prior to planting, will speed up germination. (Click here to discover more seeds that appreciate soaking.)

Here are some more resources about planting vegetables in the spring:

Prune Roses

If you failed to prune your roses earlier in the season, there is still time.

Roses should have been pruned in late winter or earliest spring, but if not, it is better to do it now rather than not at all. Your flowers will probably appear later, but the bushes will be more compact, and the flowers will be within reach.

Click here for more rose pruning and selecting resources:

Don’t let the many tasks of the spring garden overwhelm you. A garden is meant to be enjoyed and to be a place of peace and tranquility. Take the time to enjoy it, most plants are resilient and can stand some neglect. The garden never has to be perfect. It is a growing entity that is constantly changing. Enjoy the changes with it.

Click here to see my Spring Garden Tasks for a Happy Garden from previous years. Happy spring!!!

Can Tomato and Watermelon Vines Be Pruned?

“I have a small plot and planted two tomato plants and several watermelon plants. As they grow I’m realizing my plot is quickly running out of space. Can tomato plants be trimmed back? Will watermelon plants take over my yard? How do I trim them back or space them out wide enough?” Question from George of Hagerstown, Maryland

Answer: Both plants can be pruned (please watch the video below about how to prune cherry tomatoes). Both indeterminate (vining) tomatoes and long-vined watermelons will completely take over a garden space in no time. Here are some solutions for managing these gregarious plants this summer and in the future.

Space-Saving Solutions for Tomatoes

  1. Choose determinate, or bush tomatoes. They stay small. The only downside is that they do not produce fruit for as long as indeterminate (vining) tomatoes. If you want more fruit, you have other options.
  2. Cage indeterminate tomatoes with tall, strong, robust cages. I recommend Titan tomato cages or any of comparable size and quality. This way, the vines will grow upright and be easier to prune.
  3. Prune indeterminate tomatoes. Please watch the video below to learn how.

Space-Saving Solutions for Watermelon

  1. Choose short-vine watermelons, such as ‘Cal Sweet Bush‘, a 2019 AAS award winner that has excellent melons and vines that do not take over.
  2. Train melons on a trellis. Small-fruited types, like ‘Little Baby Flower‘, a personal favorite, are the best for trellising.
  3. Trim back select watermelon vine branches that have outgrown their area. Keep in mind, some will need to reach a long length to properly fruit.

Watch the video below for more watermelon-growing tips.

I hope that these tips help! You may also consider enlarging your vegetable garden. Please click on this link to learn how to start a thriving vegetable garden from the start.

Happy gardening!

Jessie Keith

Black Gold Horticulturist

When Do You Pinch Dahlias for Fuller Growth?

“How and when do you pinch dahlias to encourage fuller growth?” Question from April of Dresden, Tennessee

Answer: Once your dahlias are close to their final height (which depends on the variety) and have ample foliage, you can pinch or trim them back to encourage fuller growth, more branching, and more flowers. Just be sure to wait until they are large and full enough to bounce back nicely.

I always recommend cutting them back just above a branching stem node (see adjacent image). New branching stems will arise from the node. I also recommend using sharp shears to do the job rather than pinching (Corona Flora Scissors work very well). Cleaner cuts help plants heal and revive more quickly.

Happy gardening,

Jessie Keith

Black Gold Horticulturist

When Do You Prune Blueberries?

“I live in zone 8 and have Blueberries. Do you prune Blueberries, and if so when?” Question from Lynn of Sacramento, California

Answer: Blueberry pruning is done to maintain crops as well as shrub shape and size. There are several rules when it comes to pruning blueberries. First, wait until shrubs are mature and fruit-bearing (at least five years old) before pruning for the first time. Next, like most fruit-producing shrubs, you need to wait until after their fruit has matured to prune. Blueberries produce flowers on old wood, so if you prune any later than post-fruit production, you will remove next year’s flowers. It is also essential to maintain strong fruiting wood, while removing weaker, spindly stems.

Four Blueberry Pruning Guidelines

Here are four guidelines to follow when pruning blueberries.

  1. Prune just after berry harvest.
  2. Maintain one strong fruiting cane (branch) for each year of growth, starting in the shrub’s fourth year.
  3. Older canes can be replaced by stronger, newer fruiting canes after the shrubs have reaches 8-10 years.
  4. Remove smaller, weaker, lateral branches to encourage stronger fruiting branches.

I hope that these pruning tips help! You also might want to watch the video below about how to grow blueberries with success. (Click here to learn more about great blueberries for western gardens.)

Happy gardening,

Jessie Keith

Black Gold Horticulturist

How to Prune Spring-Flowering Shrubs

Unless you are removing dead or dying stems, it is best to prune spring-flowering shrubs just after they bloom.

When we think of pruning shrubs, we probably think of late fall and early winter as the ideal time, but this is not always the case. For many spring-flowering shrubs, late spring is the best time to prune because pruning must happen shortly after flowering. Prune off-season, in fall or spring, and you will remove the following year’s flower show! In my own garden, I have many spring-flowering shrubs that need late spring or early summer pruning, so I have learned to time my pruning carefully.

As a rule, most spring-flowering shrubs must be pruned just after or shortly after flowering because this is the time when they set new buds for next spring’s show. Prune them later in summer, and you will end up trimming off next year’s flower buds. For this reason, I have highlighted just a few spring-flowering shrubs and tips for pruning them.

My favorite pruning tools are simple. For large stems, I use a sharp pruning saw or heavy-duty loppers. Bypass pruners (secateurs) are used to manage smaller branches or for deadheading.

Pruning English or Cherry Laurel

The spring flowers of evergreen cherry laurel shrubs are very showy and fragrant, which is why it is important to prune them at the right time.

The plant that immediately comes to my mind that requires at least two prunings a year is the English Laurel, (Prunus laurocerasus, USDA Hardiness Zones 6-8, 10-18 feet), a hedge that my neighbors have. It is an evergreen and fast-growing shrub with dark glossy green leaves and has spikes of creamy white fragrant flowers in late spring. The scent is sweet and powerful, and the shrubs look very attractive in bloom.

My neighbors always give it a heavy pruning after it blooms and then another pruning later in the summer. They also selectively prune to keep the favorite hedge shrubs open and airy, which helps prevent disease problems. Theirs is certainly a taller variety that would take over the house without being pruned twice yearly.

Pruning Azaleas and Rhododendrons

Most often gardeners prune off old azalea and rhododendron blooms after they flower in addition to removing the occasional errant branch.

Rhododendrons and azaleas (Rhododendron species and hybrids, variable hardiness and sizes) will both bloom on second-year wood, so they benefit from spring pruning just after they have flowered. Any later and you risk accidentally removing next year’s blooms. Often the process for both is referred to as ‘deadheading’ because the old flower is removed.  Once the flower has faded, it can be removed. Not only does this look nicer, but it allows the plant can expend energy for new growth instead of seed production.

Deadheading a large rhododendron plant can be quite time-consuming, but it is well worth the time. The plant will physically look better without faded flowers and it saves the plant energy. Some care is required when removing the old blooms. If you look carefully, each has a tender stem that can be snapped off just below the bloom. This is where care is required because it is important to just remove everything above the stem–nothing below because all of the new growth will emerge below the stem.

Generally, rhododendrons and azaleas do not require more intensive pruning unless it is needed for space considerations or plant shaping. If pruning is required, do it immediately after flowering so the plant has adequate time to produce new growth for next year’s flowers.

Pruning Lilacs

The common lilac (Syringa vulgaris, Zones 3-8, 8-20 feet) is another plant that usually requires spring pruning. Once the plant has bloomed, cut off the spent blossoms. To do this, make the cuts back to the first or second pair of leaves on the stem.

If the shrub needs some major pruning, do it immediately after flowering because these lilacs bloom on wood from the previous year. On established plants, cut out a few of the oldest stems yearly and this will encourage new growth. It is also important to remove dead or dying stems, as needed, to keep the shrubs looking their best.

Pruning Tree Peonies

Tree peonies rarely need extensive pruning, but a little yearly deadheading and shaping will keep them performing their best.

The tree peonies (Paeonia suffruticosa, Zones 4-8, 3-5 feet) in my garden have finished their flowering season, so it is time to cut off the old flowers to keep the plant from producing seed. I do this with hesitation because the brown, starry seedpods open to show bright red or black seeds, which can be quite attractive. But, the seeds also take needed energy away from the plant. To have the best of both worlds, I sometimes leave some pods on to look nice. In general, shrubby tree peonies do not need to be pruned extensively, unless it is to remove a stray or dead branch. These architectural slow growers are usually happy just remaining as they are.

Pruning Camellias

My Japanese camellias (Camellia japonica, Zones 7-9, 7-12 feet) put on their greatest show in late winter or spring, but they will also bloom intermittently. Generally do not need pruning except to improve the appearance of the plant or for space considerations. I also remove the old flowers after they are spent to keep the shrubs looking nice and clean. When I do decide to prune, I do it immediately after flowering.

I have found that most spring-flowering shrubs are fairly forgiving with regard to pruning if you are sure to prune them after they flower and no later. If mistakes are made, the plant will survive. Severe pruning may eliminate, or decrease flowering for the next year, but the plant will carry on. Remember that gardening should be enjoyable, so don’t stress too much about potential pruning mistakes. Common sense is a good trait!

How and When Should You Prune Cape Jasmine?

How and When Should You Prune Cape Jasmine?

“When should an overgrown (8′ high) Cape Jasmine bush (we call them gardenias) be pruned? How severely can it be trimmed back? Thank you!” Question from Ann of Wake County, North Carolina

Answer: You have one happy Cape jasmine (Gardenia jasminoides, Zones 7-11)! You can take a couple of pruning approaches, but avoid pruning in fall. Spring is a better time. Be sure to use sharp bypass loppers, pruners, and a fine pruning saw (I like both Felco and Corona products). Always make cuts at a 45-degree angle for better healing. Here are two good options for pruning overgrown Cape jasmine.

  1. Renewal Pruning: This is the harshest method, but your shrub will be sized down faster. Cut the largest stems in spring as far back as 3 feet before new growth emerges. Be sure to prune and thin in a pleasing rounded shape. Remove any damaged or crossing stems as well as cumbersome old growth. Leave some fine branches with buds. Keep in mind, that this method will remove most of next year’s flower buds, but the plant should look quite nice once it leafs out.
  2. Two-Step Pruning: This method is less aggressive and will spare your flowers. Prune your Cape jasmine back to 5 feet after your shrubs flower next spring. Then prune again the following year after they flower to a final height of your liking. When pruning, strive for an appealing, mounding habit, and remove any old, crossing, damaged stems as you go.

For more information about Cape jasmine, click here to read a great resource from NC State Extension.

Happy gardening,

Jessie Keith

Black Gold Horticulturist

 

When Is The Best Time to Prune Roses?

“When is the best/latest date I can cut back roses?” Question from Joseph or Milwaukie, Oregon

Answer: Late winter is an excellent time to prune reblooming roses, but you can also safely prune them at other times–including now. I recommend that you read our blog about pruning roses in spring (click here to view it). I also encourage you to watch our rose-pruning video with West Coast Rosarian, Rich Baer. It provides a useful, hands-on overview of how to prune roses and covers everything from needed pruning tools to the proper pruning height.

Happy rose gardening,

Jessie Keith

Black Gold Horticulturist

When Do You Prune Pomegranates and Figs?

When Do You Prune Pomegranates and Figs?

“When do you prune pomegranate trees and fig trees?” Question from Renita of Flomaton, Alabama

Answer: Pomegranate (Punica granatum, USDA Hardiness Zones 8-11) and figs (Ficus carica, Zones 6-10) may both grow as trees or shrubs and have different pruning needs. Here are tips for when and how to prune them.

How to Prune Figs

Figs are deciduous further north and evergreen further south, so they need to be pruned differently depending on where they are growing. The goals when pruning a fig are to control excess branching, encourage an open habit and new growth, and control height. Fig fruits are produced on new wood in summer and a second crop, called a breba crop, is sometimes produced on the old wood later in the season. Breba figs are generally not as tasty.

Where I live in Delaware (Zone 7), my sweet ‘Celeste‘ fig’s stems may die back partially or even to the ground, so I wait to prune until I can easily scratch the stems in early spring. That way I can remove any branches that are dead. Southerners should wait to prune until the cool of late winter before new growth has begun to appear.

Start by cutting the largest stems back to the base as well as those that are overlapping and small and sucker-like. From there, you can cut the remaining stems back to 3-4 feet. Figs grow large quickly, so this process should be repeated annually if you want to encourage more compact growth. Fertilize them shortly after pruning with balanced, slow-release plant food, such as a 10-10-10. (Click here to learn more about growing figs, and click here for more detailed pruning tips.)

How to Prune Pomegranates

Like figs, pomegranate foliage can be deciduous, partially-evergreen, or evergreen, depending on how far north you live. Pomegranate fruits develop in summer on second-year growth, so care must be taken to prune them at the correct time and refrain from removing all of last year’s wood. Prune them in late winter before they flower. When pruning, the goal is to shape and thin the crown by cutting off any crossing, excessive, or overgrown stems. Each stout, main stem should have five to six lateral branches remaining. Tip growth can be cut back to maintain a uniform crown of 4 to 5 feet. A thinner, tidier crown looks good and should yield better fruit. It is also essential to remove any shoots or suckers from the base of the plant throughout the growing season. (Click here to learn more about growing pomegranates, and click here for more detailed tips on pruning and training them.)

I hope that these tips help!

Happy gardening,

Jessie Keith

Black Gold Horticulturist

Late-Summer Garden Tasks for a Happy Garden

Late-Summer Garden Tasks for a Happy Garden

Sometimes this time of year is referred to as the “dog days of summer”; however, I do not think of it in these terms. Yes, it is hot, many garden flowers are flagging, and there are garden tasks to do, but August is also a month when there is much for us to enjoy in the garden. As I sit on my deck this August morning, I am surrounded by colorful pots of salvia, begonias, lobelia, heliotrope, abutilon, fuchsias, and even a Doris Day floribunda rose bush. But, to enjoy the late-summer garden, it needs daily care.

Groom Tired Flowers

Flagging petunias will appreciate a mid- to late-summer haircut to keep them pretty into fall.

One of my early morning tasks is to remove old flowers and perform some general grooming to keep all my garden plants looking as good as possible. I carry a pair of sharp pruners and snip off any out-of-line branches, poor-looking foliage, or dying flowers. It takes little effort and keeps the garden looking its best. (For more detail, read Teri Keith’s recent article about pruning and deadheading garden perennials and annuals in midsummer.)

Cut Flowers for Bouquets

Cut bouquets of your favorite, long-lasting cut flowers in the garden.

Dahlias are just coming into their prime blooming season and should continue to flower until about the middle of October.  Yesterday, as I was walking my dog, a neighbor was cutting dahlias and gave me a beautiful bouquet. On hot days, dahlia foliage and flowers can quickly wilt in the summer sun, and a top dressing of Black Gold Garden Compost Blend can help alleviate this issue by helping to retain moisture. Cut dahlia flowers early in the day when they look their best and keep them picked to prolong their blooming season. (Click here to read our recent garden article detailing Jessie Keith’s favorite summer cut flowers.)

Feed Container Gardens

Now is the time to fertilize and give containers extra water.

By the time August arrives, many plants in containers that have grown throughout the summer will have root systems that have begun to fill the container. Once roots fill a container, they will begin to circle the wall of the pot resulting in a pot-bound planting. This root mass will quickly become dry, and the plants will wilt from lack of water. I have found that some containers may need watering twice a day if it is hot and especially if there are drying winds. Don’t expect rain to supply the needed moisture as the foliage can be so thick that the water does not penetrate the soil. Water each container at the base of the plants until the water runs out of the bottom of the pot into the saucer or reservoir. August is also a good time to give plants in containers fresh all-purpose fertilizer because many of the original nutrients have leached out.

Prepare the Vegetable Garden for Fall

Late summer is the time to plant cool-season crops, like lettuce.

Some early-season vegetables may be on the decline. Remove them to make space for a fall vegetable garden. Add fresh amendments before planting fall vegetables. Black Gold Natural & Organic Ultra Outdoor Planting Mix is a great vegetable garden amendment that is OMRI Listed for organic gardening and contains mycorrhizae to encourage better growth, naturally.

It depends on the specific area you live in, but here in Oregon’s Willamette Valley, we plant peas can good herbs for the fall garden as well as beets, carrots, chard, lettuce, and kale as well as other brassicas. Now is the perfect time to purchase seeds and get your fall vegetables growing.

“Edit” Your Garden for Fall

Iris and daylilies can be divided in late summer as you “edit” your garden.

August is a good month to think about some garden editing. In my own garden, I occasionally plant plants in the wrong place, or perhaps they have grown larger than I had expected. When moving them to new locations, I make sure to remember where spring bulbs are planted, or I move the bulbs as needed. I also consider the surrounding area and how it might have changed in terms of light and wind. As trees and shrubs grow or are pruned, they may be casting shade on plants that need the sun or providing more sun to an area that was once shady.

If your garden has bearded or Siberian iris, late August is an ideal time to divide them. Often, beds of bearded iris decline in bloom because they are too crowded, while clumps of Siberian iris can quickly become too dense. Diving both about every three years will ensure that they bloom beautifully each spring and don’t overgrow an area.

Give Roses a Boost

Now’s the time to prune off damaged branches, old blooms, and feed your roses for the fall.

Keep roses picked and cut the stems long on hybrid-tea types for the vase. New growth will appear, and the new flowers of fall will be more at eye level where their scent can be best enjoyed. Fertilize roses one last time before spring.

In these troubling times, our gardens, whether large or small, can offer us a hiatus from some of the negative forces around us.  Even a small area on a deck, balcony, or patio can give us some respite from the world in which we live. Enjoy your plants, and realize that they don’t know what is going on around them. Give them water and nurture them, and they will provide you with much pleasure.