Pruning starts this month

Pruning starts this month

February may still be considered winter, but it's the best time to start trimming your garden shrubs. Removing unwanted plant growth creates healthier and better-shaped shrubs and trees, improves flower and fruit quality and insures sturdy tree structure.

"Mid to late February is the best time for pruning roses in the Rogue Valley," says Drew Matthews, nurseryman at the Grange Co-op in Medford. "Even if we get a late freeze, it won't be as severe as the ones earlier in the winter," he adds. "Floribunda and shrub roses only need a light pruning to remove dead or crossing branches, while hybrid teas can be pruned down to just a few feet, with three or more of the healthiest branches remaining on the plant."

Dieter Trost, owner of Southern Oregon Nursery in Medford, says late February through March is great for pruning and shaping shrubs, including photinia, hydrangea, camellias, rhododendrons, and azaleas. "You can shape photinia and laurel before they start their growth period, and remove any dead branches in flowering shrubs," Trost says. Some plants, like lilac, should be pruned soon after blooming, which prevents you from loping off flowers that will decorate your garden in the months ahead. Most spring-flowering shrubs bloom from the previous year's wood; the same is true of some summer-flowering shrubs. An exception to this rule is forsythia, which can bloom as early as February in some parts of the valley. This easy care shrub can be pruned before and after blooming. Check with the local Master Gardeners, 776-7371, online or with nurseries to learn specific pruning times.

All trees are easier to prune before leafing and flowering. Pay attention to the natural shape of the tree and try to preserve it. Remove any dead and injured branches and those that cross or rub. This opens the tree up to more sunlight and prevents further rubbing injuries. When dealing with a tree over 15 feet tall consider calling in an arborist, as they have the necessary equipment and training to get the job done safely and correctly.

Fruit trees require special attention when it comes to pruning because different techniques apply to different kinds of fruit. "Apples, pears, and cherries grow on older wood, but you should always cut out any crossing branches," Matthews says. Peaches, apricots and nut trees grow on wood from the previous year. Ideally, fruit trees are best pruned before their buds start swelling.

The spot to make a pruning cut on a rose, shrub or tree stem is generally the same: above the plant's growth bud. Not too close, because if you damage or remove the bud the plant will be unable to grow beyond that point. Make cuts at a 45 degree angle for the best result, using well-sharpened pruning shears. If the shears do not seem up to the job, get a larger pair. Loppers — pruners with extra long handles for increased leverage — or pruning saws are best for cutting tree branches, although you should feel free to use them on the thicker branches of shrubs.

It pays to know your limits when it comes to pruning. Don't take unnecessary physical risks and only do what you can realistically handle. That includes recognizing the limits of your knowledge. "Remember that once you cut from a plant, the piece can't be put back on," says Matthews.

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