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When Pruning Trees and Shrubs, Timing Is Everything

Pruning is always a question for many gardeners, when and how to prune are the most common. It really depends on what you are pruning. For trees and shrubs pruning is a way to help rejuvenate and stimulate new growth. But there is a right time and a wrong time to prune.

Here are a few general rules you need to know before you pick up your pruning shears this spring.

For many trees and shrubs timing is key, especially when pruning spring flowering shrubs. Plants like Azalea, Forsythia, and lilac bloom on the previous years growth. Flower buds are produced the previous growing season and overwinter on the plant. Pruning these shrubs in the fall or winter will prohibit flowering in the spring. Many of these shrubs benefit from light pruning to keep the natural shape of the plant. You want to avoid over pruning or shearing too closely. This practice alters the natural growth structure of the plant resulting in unhealthy looking plants that will flower very little.

Trees and shrubs flowering in the summer should be pruned in late winter or early spring. These plants flower on the the same years growth and are fast growing, like Buddleia and Caryopteris. Roses, Hybrid tea and floribunda should also be pruned in early spring, just before plant breaks dormancy. Shrub and Knockout roses can benefit from this as well. Fruit trees, evergreens, Viburnum, Crepe Myrtle and Rose of Sharon can also be pruned in the early spring.

Pruning hydrangeas on the other hand can be tricky. Hydrangea paniculata and arborescens, flower on the new seasons growth. Pruning in the late winter or early spring is ideal. Hydrangea macrophylla flower from the previous years growth. Many of the new breeds and varieties of hydrangeas bloom from old and new wood, like the endless summer series. It is best to cut back in the late summer. If your plant has become too large or if you are cutting blooms for floral arrangements be careful not to over prune, this can result in fewer blooms the following year.

Pruning tips:

1. Use sharp shears that are cleaned and sanitized to avoid spreading any disease.

2. Remove diseased wood immediately.

3. Make cuts at an angle and close to the collar of the tree. This will keep insects out that can carry disease and harm the tree.

4. Remove crossing branches. Always cut off the smaller branch.

5. Remove thin and spindly looking branches. This helps to thin out the tree or shrub, opening it up for more light and wind to pass through.

6. Remove suckers growing from the trunk of tree.

7. Cut shoots growing straight up towards the center of the tree from thebark or on branches.

8. Avoid pruning in fall. Plants are still growing in the fall. Pruning stimulates growth in plants who are otherwise winding down their growing season and preparing for dormancy. Freezing temps can injure plants pushing new growth.

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Pruning Shrubs And Trees In Winter

You may not think of winter as the time to head outside and start pruning your trees and shrubs.  The fact is late winter is the perfect time to start thinking about gardening chores, like pruning.   Now trees and shrubs are dormant, many woody plants drop their leaves in fall and are not actively growing.  Rejuvenate trees and shrubs by pruning to remove dead, diseased wood and crisscrossed branches. This benefits the plants structure and appearance keeping them looking healthy.

Here are a few trees and shrubs to prune now:

Ornamental Pear

Locust

Plums

Crabapples

Fruit trees. Prune fruit bearing in late February and early March. Remove any dead wood or branches that have crossed or growing straight towards the center of the tree.  Apple, pear and cherry trees should have an open canopy.

Juniper

Spruce

Cypress

Shrubs:

Barberries

Boxwood

Camellias, after blooming

Crepe Myrtle

Rose Of Sharon

Holly, prune early winter

Yew

Roses, like Hybrid tea and floribunda should be pruned in early spring, just before plant breaks dormancy. Shrub roses and Knockout roses can benefit from this as well.

Hydrangea paniculata and arborescens, bloom off of new wood.  Hydrangea macrophylla blooms off the previous years growth as well as new wood growth.

Pruning tips:

  1. Use sharp shears that are cleaned and sanitized to avoid spreading any disease.
  2. Remove diseased wood immediately.
  3. Make cuts at an angle and close to the collar of the tree.  This will keep insects out that can carry disease and harm the tree.
  4. Remove crossing branches.  Cut off the smaller branch
  5. Remove thin and spindly looking branches.  This helps to thin out the tree or shrub opening it up for more light and wind to pass through.
  6. Remove suckers growing from the trunk of tree.
  7. Cut shoots growing straight up towards the center of the tree off of bark or branches, ‘water sprouts.’
  8. Avoid pruning in fall.  Plants are still growing in the fall.  Pruning stimulates  growth in plants who are otherwise winding down their growing season and preparing for dormancy.   Freezing temps can injure plants pushing new growth.

Prune spring flowering shrubs like azaleas, lilacs, rhododendron, and viburnum are pruned when done blooming.

Other trees and shrubs to prune in spring and summer:

Pine

Birch

Dogwood

Walnut

Maple

Elm

Hydrangea macrophylla 

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Forcing Flowering Shrub Branches Indoors

Forcing branches indoors for winter color.

Flowering Shrubs and trees are beautiful to look at when they bloom in the spring, but who wants to wait. Gardeners are looking for any excuse to get outside, why not help mother nature along by bringing the outdoors in and forcing a few cut branches indoors.

Here are some tips on forcing branches indoors.

Choose branches that are young and have many swollen buds along the stem. Make sure you choose wisely, cut branches that are crossed or protruding outward detracting from the natural habit of the plant. With a sharp pair of pruners cut branch a 1/4” above the bud. Make sure to cut branches 18” or longer and in multiples of 3’s. This makes arranging in a vase easier. Recut stems on an angle and place in container with warm water. To preserve freshness of the water add 2 tablespoon of lemon juice, 1 tablespoon of sugar, 1/2 teaspoon of chlorine bleach and mix in quart of water. If you do not have fresh lemon juice on hand you can substitute white vinegar. Place container in medium to low, indirect light and keep cool, between 60-65 degrees. Keep water levels consistent. Once buds begin to crack, place container in bright, indirect light. Always keep an eye on the water level and keep branches cool. This will help prolong the life of the blooms.
Here are a few of the most common flowering shrubs that are easy to force right now,

Shrubs                                                                         No. of Weeks

Forsythia x intermedia, Forsythia                                2
Yellow Flowers

Chaenomeles sp. Flowering Quince                              4
Red or orange flowers, long lasting

Lindera benzoin, Spice bush                                           2
Fragrant light pink flowers

Hammamalis vernalis, Witchhazel                               2
Yellow colored strap-like petals

Spirea prunifolia, Bridal Wreath Spirea                     2
Small, white flowers in spray
Double flowers last longer than singles.

Salix sp. Pussy Willow                                                     2
Fury white buds

Trees

Malus sp. Crabapple                                                         4
Pink or white fragrant flowers

Pyrus sp. Flowering pear                                                4
Clusters of white fragrant flowers

Flowering shrubs and trees best cut and forced

in March,

Shrubs

Lilac Syringa sp. Lilac                                                      4
Fragrant purple or white flowers

Rhododendron sp. Rhododendron                                 4
Large blooms is a wide range of colors

Trees

Cornus florida, Flowering Dogwood                             5
Pink and white flowers

Prunus sp. Cherry                                                              3
Pink and white flowers

Magnolia sp.                                                                        5
Magnolia
Pink, white and cream colored flowers

Cercis canadensis, Eastern Redbud                               2
Purplish, pink flowers