Is It Time Yet?

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Calls are coming into the Extension office about pruning. Most callers are asking when is the best time to prune. Pruning in ‘late winter’ is frequently the best time for many landscape plants to minimize damage and benefit from the natural spring cycle of growth. Late winter in our area is defined as late February or early March. Pruning done in late winter or early spring, gives a plant the maximum time for the cut to close during a season when there are minimal pests and growth.

Keep in mind that pruning of trees and shrubs does cause wounds to the plant. A good pruning cut leaves a smooth, clean surface to aid the plant in sealing the wound as quickly as possible. Using clean sharp tools for pruning can help ensure that smooth cuts are made. Hand pruners are useful for smaller branches. Usually a branch over ½ to 3/4 of an inch requires the use of long-handled loppers or a pruning saw. A chainsaw for pruning is usually not recommended because cuts are frequently not clean and smooth. Late winter or early spring is the best time to prune summer-flowering trees, shrubs, and vines.

Summer-flowering shrubs flower on the new wood that is produced in the spring of the year. If pruning is performed later, after new growth has begun, many flower buds will be removed reducing the flowers that provide the color. Some summer-flowering plants that benefit from early spring pruning include Glossy Abelia (Abelia grandiflora), Butterflybush (Buddleia), Beautyberry (Callicarpa), Clematis (Clematis), Althea (Hibiscus syriacus), Pee Gee Hydrangea (Hydrangea quercifolia), Goldenraintree (Koelreuteria paniculata), Hybrid Tea Rose (Rosa), and Crapemyrtle (Lagerstroemia).

Spring-flowering trees and shrubs form flower buds on the wood that grows in the summer. If these shrubs are pruned during late summer, fall, or winter most of the flower buds will be removed. To ensure maximum flowering, these shrubs should be pruned as soon as possible after flowers fade in the spring. Spring-flowering shrubs include forsythia, deutzia, viburnum, mock-orange, spirea, quince and azalea. For a detailed list of when and how to prune different flowering plants look for: https://content.ces.ncsu.edu/how-to-prune-specific-plants.

Cutting a branch back to a bud is recommended to help reduce dead wood and to encourage the wound to heal faster. Cutting a branch back to the main trunk or to a lateral branch is also beneficial. Make the cut at a slight angle 1/4 inch above the bud. This gentle angle will allow moisture to flow off the cut. Avoid making the cut at a sharp angle because it will produce a larger wound and may be overly sharp causing personal injury.

Avoid heavy pruning in early spring after budding has occurred because energy reserves in the plant are low. Dead wood on shrubs or trees can and should be pruned out at any time.

Pruning to maintain plant health includes the elimination of diseased and damaged wood. When removing diseased wood, it is important that the cut be made with a sterile blade into healthy wood. Dip the blades in a disinfectant such as 70 percent wood alcohol or Lysol between each cut to avoid spreading the disease. Prepared wipes with disinfectant are also useful for cleaning pruning blades.

Pruning shrubs and trees can keep your yard well-maintained and healthy for many years. Pruning should be viewed as a regular part of maintenance rather than as a remedial correction of neglected problems.