Gar­den Cameos: Win­ter is the time to prune

The Progress-Index - At Home - - NEWS - By Betty Mont­gomery

Prun­ing is a task that is ben­e­fi­cial for trees and shrubs to keep them healthy and vi­brant. This is also a task that many of us, me in­cluded, are ner­vous about per­form­ing. The gar­den is at its most dor­mant pe­riod in late win­ter, mak­ing it a good time to prune.

There are many rea­sons to prune: to re­move dead or dy­ing branches, branches that cross one an­other, branches grow­ing to­ward the mid­dle of the tree, suck­ers grow­ing out at the base and branches grow­ing at a tight an­gle.

Thin­ning out the top of the tree to let air move through the branches and let light into the plant also is rec­om­mended. Some­times the crown needs to be raised by cut­ting lower branches, as well. Be care­ful while do­ing this and do not re­move too many branches when the tree is young or the tree will have a funny shape for sev­eral years un­til it re­cov­ers.

Trees are stronger if they have a cen­tral trunk. To achieve this, it means short­en­ing the com­pet­ing branch or branches leav­ing the re­main­ing branch to de­velop into the leader. There are some ex­cep­tions to this rule. Trees such as crape myr­tles and river birches, which are grown for their in­ter­est­ing bark and are pruned to de­velop multi-trunks, do not fol­low the same rules.

Win­ter prun­ing is ideal for hard­wood trees. Cut the branches just above the branch col­lar. This is an area just above where the branch joins the tree. You can of­ten iden­tify it by the wavy bark as it joins the tree. If you cut right at the trunk, the tree will not heal as quickly as it will if you cut just above the twists of wrin­kled bark. When the branch is cut prop­erly, na­ture will heal the wound.

You can wait to prune trees such as red­buds, dog­woods and crabap­ples be­cause of their lovely spring flow­ers, but I usu­ally prune th­ese now, too, be­cause I do a bet­ter job when there are no leaves on the tree.

How­ever, you can lightly prune spring bloom­ing trees just af­ter they bloom.

To re­move large branches, you will need to make sev­eral cuts to avoid dam­ag­ing the bark or hav­ing a large limb fall and hurt you. Cut off the end of the branch and then work your way back to­ward the branch col­lar, mak­ing sev­eral cuts along the branch. When you get closer to the branch col­lar, cut smaller pieces un­til your cut is made at the right point above the branch col­lar.

Now is also a very good time to prune cedars, ju­nipers and other evergreens while they are still dor­mant.

If you have un­wanted lower branches on evergreens, prune in late win­ter but go easy be­cause evergreens are less for­giv­ing than hard­woods. I would not cut lower branches un­less you are cer­tain you want them re­moved. Some ev­er­green trees will not put out new growth be­low the low­est branch of green nee­dles.

I vis­ited the By­ron Richards gar­den in Hen­der­son­ville, North Carolina, last year. They have an in­cred­i­ble col­lec­tion of ev­er­green trees and shrubs. They told me that ev­ery tree and shrub in their col­lec­tion re­ceived some kind of prun­ing ev­ery year.

Pearl Frye, the owner of a top­i­ary gar­den in Bish­opville, also prunes all his spec­i­mens sev­eral times a year to make the shapes he is look­ing to have. How­ever this is not nec­es­sary un­less you want some kind of spe­cific shape.

Prun­ing shrubs is more shrub­spe­cific; there­fore, you need to know more about each plant. I am asked more about prun­ing shrubs than any other ques­tion. I will write about prun­ing shrubs in my next ar­ti­cle.

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