Winter in the garden can be surprisingly productive if you plan your tasks ahead of time. At this time of year, we can prune many deciduous and evergreen shrubs, as well as getting started in on fruit trees. Taming the jungle now can save you maintenance pruning time later.
As you watch leaves fall into a carpet of color, pay attention to the branching of deciduous shrubs. Is it time to reign in the height of your Physocarpus “Ninebark”? Maybe it has reached or exceeded the roof line or gutters. Will reducing the width now help make room for your surrounding perennials and shrubs to thrive? Perhaps it’s time to prune that Hibiscus “Rose of Sharon” to the ground to give it a fresh start. Some plants love a new lease on life and are easier to manage through spring and summer with a hard pruning in winter. Varieties of red twig dogwood respond well to the removal of old canes, allowing the new ones to stand out and be the start of a whole new shape for a wild shrub needing to be corralled into your landscaped space. Will trimming the evergreen hedge between you and the neighbor make visibility better, or worse?
With so many factors to consider, consulting with a professional is a great first step. If you have the time, patience, and sharp tools needed to get the job done yourself, take time to research each plant and its flowering time to avoid cutting off blossoms for next year. When in doubt, never take off more than 1/3 of the plant height. Sarcococca, an evergreen shrub for the shade, and Ribes (currant) a deciduous favorite has tight buds at their tips just waiting for their time to shine. Trimming these now could cause them to have a flowerless year. You will need to be selective on which branches to tip back. This is the same for plants like Rhodies, Camelias, and Forsythia.
Always starting with deadwood, broken and crossing branches is a good place to begin. Clean pruning tools with rubbing alcohol wipes to prevent the spread of diseases. The sharper your tool is, the easier the cuts will be. There are plenty of pocket-sized sharpeners on the market that will do the trick. Take a step back and look at the shrub from many angles to get a good idea of where to reign it in. Envision where you might like the next set of branches to start branching, and the direction you would like them to go. Keep in mind optimal height, circulation against buildings and fences, and accessibility along pathways and near gates to guide you in your quest for pruning success.
Article was written by landscaping expert Heidi Branchesi of Heidi’s Timely Gardening Tips and our Glenwood Corner Store Nursery. Find more of her gardening tips in the Expert Advice section of our YOG:Blog.