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Winter Pruning: Know When and Where To Cut

By  Donna Teasley

We prune for many reasons. Some are good, and others are not so good. The primary goal of pruning should be to enhance a plant’s natural form, not to change a plant’s size or shape. Yes, sometimes prun - ing is done to improve the shape of a shrub or tree. However, we need to remember we cannot force a plant to grow in a spot where there is not enough room. The task of keeping a camellia that naturally grows 8 feet tall pruned to a height of 4 feet is never going to end well.

Timing is another issue that frequently occurs. Although few plants have ever been permanently damaged by pruning at the wrong time of year, bad timing can result in disappoint - ment due to lack of flowers and fruits produced by the pruned plant. Before pruning, determine the proper pruning time for the plant you seek to prune.

Many gardeners like to prune in winter because there isn’t much else to do. Also, during winter many trees are leafless, making broken or damaged limbs easy to spot. It is important to remember, however, that not all plants benefit from winter pruning. Summer-flowering trees and shrubs such as crape myrtle and rose of Sharon are good choices for late winter pruning. Early flowering trees and shrubs such as azalea, forsythia, and lilac should never be pruned in the winter. This is because the flower buds that will become spring blossoms are already formed; winter pruning will remove these buds, resulting in a lack of spring blooms.

Certain trees such as maple, birch, dogwood, and elm are referred to as bleeders. When pruned during winter, they will drip large amounts of sap. This doesn’t harm the tree, but can be unsightly. To avoid heavy bleeding, prune bleeder trees during the summer months.

Good, sharp tools are necessary to make clean, precise cuts. Quality tools are expensive. They pay for themselves, however, by producing clean cuts that heal quickly. Take time to learn how to make proper cuts to cause the least dam - age to the plants you are pruning.

When unsure about the proper time to prune an unruly tree or shrub, contact your local Cooperative Extension center for advice. Also, recognize that some jobs are too large for a homeowner. When the job is too big, call an ex - perienced, licensed arborist who has the proper tools to get the job done safely and properly.

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